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Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Produced in 1962
Main Language - ITALIAN with English subtitles
Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1962 drama - about the doomed relationship between a trader and a city girl - shows both the strengths and weaknesses of the director’s technique.
It might, at this point, be useful to approach the films Michelangelo Antonioni made in the early 1960s as modernist Sci-Fi, comparable to Godard’s Alphaville: warnings from some dysfunctional alternative reality in which everyone we see appears listless, deeply unhappy, not just numbed but physically crushed by a measure of consumer-age tedium. (And just as films with racist or sexist protagonists risk standing accused of racism or sexism themselves, so too the Antonioni oeuvre has courted accusations of being tedious.)
For what we’ve discovered in the half-century since the director’s peak is that the forces of capitalism haven’t bored us, but instead given rise to a hyper-capitalism that keeps us in a state of constant, aggressive stimulation – only at risk of being bored – and thus vulnerable to all those proffering shiny new gadgets, franchises or social media interfaces. Walking into them from this perpetual lightshow, the Antonioni movies can appear a desolate dead end.
What’s undeniable is that, for all the listlessness he put before the camera, the director was busy indeed behind it. You can see it clearest of all in the opening sequence of 1962’s L’Eclisse, reissued this week: this death-by-a-thousand-cuts prologue seeks out every possible angle on the failing relationship of modern gal Monica Vitti and her older lover Francisco Rabal, finding ever-inventive ways – placing a bookshelf here, an electric fan there – to divide up the space between these people.
Vitti’s Vittoria drifts onto the trading floor of Rome’s Stock Exchange – presented as the temple of a new religion, one guided as much by superstition and blind luck as its precedents – where she takes a punt on Alain Delon, young, handsome, pockets full of lire, a figure twenty years ahead of his time. He gives her temporary elevation – flying her to Verona in his jet – and allows her to acquire all the objects in the world, but he leaves her no happier in herself, and all the clutter offers her scant room to manoeuvre. Beware of pretty things.
Fascinating as it still is, there are limitations to Antonioni’s heavily symbolic approach: the characters seem like loosely representative human shapes, to be moved around within the frame until they obstruct or obscure one another. (The thesis insists they cannot tessellate, or cannot tessellate for long.) The trouble, I’ve always found, is that the framework they’re positioned in here – a scenario about love at the mercy of market forces – is far less compelling than the missing person intrigue of L’Avventura, or The Red Desert’s slow-creeping environmental meltdown.
Endlessly wanging on about his car, Delon is such an obvious fly-by-night chancer, an agent of doom, that it’s clear this relationship cannot last; the yearning close-ups of Vitti make a fool out of Vittoria, just as the Delon character does of his business clients. The editorial has way too much invested in the trading floor scenes – small masterpieces of design, choreography and camerawork – where every shot of a cigar-chomping bigshot shouting into the lens seems to bellow “Is this what you want? Well, is it?”
The finale – half-inched by Richard Linklater for Before Sunrise, and justly celebrated in film schools – does something very striking in emptying out its locations, turning what was once a lovers’ paradise into a deserted ghost town, devoid of passion, possibility, life. (There are high streets that look like that nowadays.) Yet you’ll have to decide for yourself how much passion, possibility and life was there in the first place, and how hard it must have been to clear it all away.
You could, of course, hang every other shot on the wall – or, perhaps better, have them printed up in an architects’ journal: I suspect one reason the film established such a foothold in film culture is that the luminous Vitti and the dark Delon make very pretty, contrasting shapes. But Italian cinema really needed a Bertolucci to come along and get under its characters’ skins and inside their heads – and to have the good humour to recognise that sometimes a door is just a door, and not a socioeconomic signifier.
Antonioni's first international hit was L' Avventura, which began his collaboration with his favourite actress, Monica Vitti. Continued by La Notte and completed by L'Eclisse, the trilogy traced Antonioni's favourite theme of the problem of communication in contemporary society. Technically superb with strong performances, this is one of Antonioni's most accessible works. Winner of the Cannes Special Jury Prize.
Publisher: Studio Canal
Length: 118 mins
Format: DVD B&W
Released: 9th July 2007
Cat No: OPTD0939
- Interview with Jose Moure, author on the films of Antonioni.
by Anon on 20th July 2000
Vittoria (Monica Vitti) abandons a difficult relationship yet the emotional wounds of separation leave her with feelings that she doesn't fully understand and is incap... Read on
Vittoria (Monica Vitti) abandons a difficult relationship yet the emotional wounds of separation leave her with feelings that she doesn't fully understand and is incapable of communicating. Aimlessly she wanders throught the cold modernist architecture of Rome and has a brief affair with an insensitive stock broker (Alain Delon). Like 'Le Notte' and 'Il Deserto Rosso', 'L'Eclisse' was made at a time of great uncertainty in Antonioni's life, a point where he doubted all forms of communication, subsequently the films investigation of love veers into abstraction and pictorialism and away from character. 'L'Eclisse' is not one of his best, it feels lost and rambling and has a suicidal tone that can be wearing, but it does contain some extraordinary sequences - the African dance, Delon and Vitti in the park, and the final where the enduring progression of the city washes over the human story. It's half masterpiece, half depressing but essential viewing none-the -less. Hide
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