From A.O. Scott's 8/5/07 Sunday NYT essay on Bergman vs. Antonioni film studies cage match : [internal commentary link mine]
"Mr. Antonioni helped push Italian film beyond realism, infusing landscapes with psychological rather than social meaning and turning eroticism from a romantic into a metaphysical pursuit. ... L'Avventura and The Seventh Seal, though they have little else in common...are both hard to watch. Not because the content or the imagery is upsetting but because they never allow the viewer to relax into a conditioned expectation of what will happen next or an easy recognition of what it means. There was, among certain filmgoers in the 1960s, an appetite for difficulty, a conviction that symbolic obscurity and psychological alienation were authentic responses to the state of the world. More than that, the idea that a difficult work had special value--that being challenged was a distinct form of pleasure--enjoyed a prestige, at the time, that is almost unimaginable today. We would rather be teased than troubled, and the measure of artistic sophistication is cleverness rather than seriousness."