Friday, November 09, 2018

L'Eclisse (1962)

The Eclipse, Italy / France, 126 minutes
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Writers: Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, Ello Bartolini, Ottiero Ottieri
Photography: Gianni Di Venanzo
Music: Giovanni Fusco, Mina
Editor: Eraldo Da Roma
Cast: Monica Vitti, Alain Delon, Francisco Rabal, Lilla Brignone, Rosanna Rory, Louis Seigner

L'Eclisse is the third movie in an informal trilogy by director and cowriter Michelangelo Antonioni, following L'Avventura and La Notte. They are aimless, vaguely existential, and decidedly modern art films from the early '60s, the heroic era of the art film. The first, L'Avventura from 1960, is more often singled out as the most impactful. Someone once said you can see its influence on David Lean, for example, in the difference between The Bridge Over the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. L'Eclisse is generally ranked not far behind. Perhaps because I've seen so many movies influenced by Antonioni, none of the actual Antonionis has ever lived up for me to their reputations. The people are too beautiful and rich for me, as a general rule, and the psychic dead spaces between them no more illuminating than the psychic dead spaces between a million others encountered on a daily basis.

But what is L'Eclisse? Let's go to the IMDb synopsis, which basically covers everything we need to know: "In the suburbs of Rome, the translator Vittoria [Monica Vitti] breaks her engagement with her boyfriend, the writer Riccardo, after a troubled night. Vittoria goes downtown to meet her mother, who is addicted to the stock market, and she meets the broker Piero [Alain Delon] on a day of crash. The materialist Piero and the absent Vittoria begin a monosyllabic relationship" (synopsis by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). Keywords: italy, insomnia, sports car, reference to zeus, obsession, marriage, isolation, male female relationship, father daughter relationship, depression, boyfriend girlfriend relationship, boredom, mother daughter relationship, construction site, stock broker, alienation, loneliness

Strictly speaking, L'Eclisse is probably more concerned with nuclear anxiety or general anomie than philosophical existentialism. It famously includes shots of a bizarre structure that resembles a mushroom cloud and/or alien-designed spaceship station. For trivia buffs, the structure is a water tower in the suburbs of Rome, still standing, whose construction was begun under the Fascists. It also features a restaurant at the top, in the spaceship portion, something like the Space Needle in Seattle.

Another commonly recurring visual motif here is the partial obscuring of one thing by another, such as Vittoria standing behind a pillar with only half of her face and body visible. Eclipses, see? It's not profound (or maybe it is?), but Antonioni with cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo have such a sure visual sense that the unreeling images are almost enough to carry the picture by themselves. Di Venanzo also worked with Antonioni on La Notte and with Federico Fellini on .

Scenes at the Rome stock market are featured—Vittoria's mother is a player in a go-go economy, something like a day trader today. These scenes are boisterous but unconvincing. "This. Is. Capitalism," seems to be the prevailing idea, implying savagery at the heart of civilization or something, but Antonioni's obvious appreciation for the rich and beautiful significantly undercuts any critique aspect. Monica Vitti and Alain Delon are notably beautiful people—easy on the eyes, as they might have said in 1962—but I'm not sure critiques of capitalism should be easy on the eyes. Also, in these days following Megyn Kelly's rightful shunning for defending blackface on NBC, it was at least disconcerting to see Vitti done up in blackface / blackbody and pretending to be an African Negro, though it was also an energizing scene with the music and dancing.

The music credit is for the theme song, "L'Eclisse Twist," a rock 'n' roll pop song written by Fusco and performed by Mina that plays as the titles start. I would have been inclined to like the song just for the title, but it is also a lively, groovy number that really delivers. However, when the high point of your film turns out to be the first two minutes it may not always be such a great idea. In fact, the song is cut short even during the titles, giving way to uncredited discordant modern classical music that is a better harbinger of what's ahead in this movie. Otherwise the soundtrack is mostly no music, with some isolated snatches of pop music or piano playing heard on the air from radios, record players, or live performance.

I'll give Antonioni his "new cinema" reputation. You have to. Watching his movies requires putting oneself in another gear entirely, required to be much more passively open to nothing adding up but a wheeling parade of images like a slideshow and, sometimes, somewhat human moments. See also Fellini, see also Tarkovsky, see also Bela Tarr, see also Apichatpong Weerasethakul, see also see also. Vittoria's journey in this movie, from the end of a fairly serious relationship (one that includes whole nights of staying up and fighting) and into the beginnings of what is probably a rebound relationship, is realistic enough. But narrative is beside the point here as a matter of principle, in the way Antonioni approaches it. There's no identifying with a character or a story. There's only confusion and trying to figure things out if you struggle against it. But there are admittedly extraordinary sights along the way. Also, "L'Eclisse Twist."


  1. More than once, I've wondered why I think L'Avventura is a classic while the others are good at best. I still don't know. Meaningless anecdote: I used to know someone who had Antonioni and Vitti in his address book. He said when he'd hang with Antonioni in Italy, everyone would call him "Maestro".

  2. Ha, I like that, probably because it reminds me of the Seinfeld character!