The plot is deceptively simple. A beautiful young woman mysteriously disappears while touring off the coast of Sicily. Though initially distressed at this loss, her lover and best friend fall in love, betray one another, and then make some hesitant moves toward reconciliation. Nowell-Smith demonstrates that Antonioni transformed this tale into an astoundingly profound meditation on romance, friendship, personal identity, women's autonomy, living in the modern world, even meaning itself.
The author also tells the fascinating history of the film's production (and how close Antonioni came to shutting down shooting before he completed the picture!) and its troubled, but ultimately enthusiastic, critical and popular reception. As an added treat, the volume closes with what Nowell-Smith considers the best essay written about Antonioni, a speech delivered in 1980 by the great critic Roland Barthes. In it, Barthes considers three features of Antonioni's work, "which to my mind constitute the artist: vigilance, wisdom, and, most paradoxical of all, fragility." --Raphael Shargel