The Eclipse (L’eclisse)

The Eclipse

I wish I didn’t love you, or that I loved you much more.

Michelangelo Antonioni supposedly has a loose trilogy of films from right before he made the transition to color, that all deal with the ennui and dissatisfaction the upper class citizens of mid-century Italy generally feel about their lives. The last of this would-be trilogy, L’eclisse, is generally agreed to be one of the better of Antonioni’s films; perhaps the best, depending on the argument made for L’Avventura. I can certainly see why; this, more than L’Avventura, and even more than Blowup, seems to be Antonioni’s “art house” film. If you do watch this one and think otherwise, all I can say is; wait till the last ten minutes.

The film starts off with probably the most emotionally deadpan scene I’ve seen in cinema. Vittoria and Riccardo stand in Riccardo’s apartment, seemingly lifeless both physically and mentally. A small desk fan whirs in the background, providing the only ambiance. We sit on them for a minute or two, as they march listlessly around the room, before they speak – and immediately, it is evident that they are a couple that are in the midst of breaking up. It’s yet another example of how great films can make even the most simple and dour scenes of reality come alive with cinematic fervor, whereas the films that are content with merely presenting reality can never hope to match up with the skill and talent needed to do what Antonioni does with this opening scene alone. From there, the film is a showcase of mixed emotions, hopscotching from person to person and back again. Vittoria is a listless drone of a woman, unsure of which way to go in life, in romance and in trade. Her mother obsesses over her winnings and losses in the stock market, which is itself an arena of utter chaos personified, none more so than in the mother’s stockbroker, Piero. He makes a pass at Vittoria, who rejects him. A man who loses 50 million lire in a day at the stocks wanders the streets, drawing flowers on napkins. Vittoria calls out to her friend Marta, who shoots a balloon as it is released into the sky. And all the while, Vittoria and Piero seem to dance around one another, as Vittoria at once seems unsure of whether she should feel these emotions with someone new, and wanting to open up to him more. This is another film that isn’t about plots and stories; it’s about people, and what people can go through in their day to day lives and how it can affect them. An all-encompassing premise, sure, but Antonioni only focuses on the broader aspects in fleeting moments; most of the time, we stick with Vittoria and Piero, as they either make or don’t make their burgeoning relationship work. It’s truly mesmerizing to watch, and this seems to be a running motif with Antonioni’s works; it’s also helped along by some pretty damn good cinematography, and a reserved but effective performance from the female lead.

The film ends with a montage sequence of the various sights and locales seen in the film, right down to the streets and foliage seen in peripheral, before shifting to individuals looking around, a man reading a newspaper about nuclear war, a sprinkler being turned off, successive extreme close-ups of a man and a building, and on and on. It was by far the biggest shock to my system after watching just a slightly unconventional film up to that point, for Antonioni to go full Bunuel or Eisenstein on me. The film up to then, though, was still quite memorable, though, again, it is not really about the plot as much as it is about the experience of empathizing with Vittoria and the people around her as they go about their lives. This isn’t an easy thing for a film to do, but Antonioni seems to have gotten the mix of elements just right with this one. That’s not to say that this film will be everyone’s cup of tea; I’m not saying that. But it’s worth a look, at the very least.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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