Thursday, October 15, 2009


L'eclisse (The Eclipse), 1962
Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni
October 14, 2009

Antonioni's final film in his "trilogy" takes up stylistically where he left off with La Notte (1961). The post-modern figurehead is at the top of his game here, and it really show. It might be the best one, or I might just be saying that because it is the easiest to follow, or I'm starting to understand what he trying to get at a little bit more. Who knows? It is still a difficult film to watch if only for the stark portrayals of modern people pretending to care about each other, but in the end being really selfish and not giving a shit. I guess all of the Antonioni films that I've seen deal with classic "alienation" issues in new narrative trappings, and the compositions of Antonioni's shot reflect that mood, as well as his dour black-and-white cinematography and the slow pacing. Don't get me wrong, it all looks great, and the pacing is pretty much just a bout right throughout, but you get the idea. It kind of ups the ante of his provocative modernism by being the most radical as well. The "I don't give a shit" attitude of the narrative conventions and the chilling themes of absence and desire make you think about the film long after you're done viewing it.

At the beginning of L'eclisse, Vittoria, a translator (Monica Vitti) from the Roman suburbs is breaking off her engagement to Riccardo (Francisco Rabal). The whole scene sets ups the interactions between people who come across each others path: restless souls and neurotics. Riccardo is a neurotic. He can't understand why Vitorria is breaking it off. He wants to know how he can change. He wants to know if she ever loved him. He wants to be able to call her in a couple of days to see is she's changed her mind. All Vitorria can do is respond, "I don't know," or wonder why people ask so may questions. At points, her face is anguished as she tries to give Riccardo some reason that never amounts to anything, but it's hard to say if she feels truly bad for him or only for herself for getting into this tricky situation. She does this throughout the film, not being able to explain any of her impulses or actions as she drifts along. The only other time that Riccardo is seen again is when he throws rocks at her apartment window a little later and she hides so he can't see her. Then he dejectedly walks away, seemingly disappearing.

Vittoria tries to get some time in with her mother (Lilla Brignone) after this, who is a compulsive money trader, and spends most of her time at the stock market. Here Antonioni has stock-brokers going bonkers trying to make deals and deal with each other. Part of what makes theses scenes so overwhelming and breathtaking is the compositional style of using the edges of the frame and playing off the different sections of the crowed image in relation to one another, with gesticulating arms flailing everywhere as if they might burst through the screen. The mother of course, has very little time for her grown daughter, and asks her every time she sees her, "What are you doing here?" She is viewed by the other people there as generally crazy, and when the market crashes and she joins a mob going to complain about "socialists," the point is well proved with a little humor. Vittoria gets lost a little bit in these scenes, as they are really about Piero (Alain Delon), a young stock-broker who is employed by Vittoria's mother and soon starts a fling with Vittoria.

The relationship doesn't start right away, as their arcs meet each other the first couple of times that Vittoria goes to the market, but they only talk a little bit about the market or her mother. Piero's restlessness is different from Vittoria's in that he is driven; he has a "passion" for the market and money. His restlessness, as Vittoria notes, is that "he can't stay still;" he is a young man with virility. However, unlike in earlier films like L'avventura (1960) or La Notte, Antonioni doesn't seem to view his materialistic lifestyle or restless love life a bad thing; in fact, he shoots them as being some what vibrant, if spastic. Capitalism is a little less corrupt. A new attitude for Antonioni, where things are little less about guilt and compromise and selling-out? I'll have to see more films of his to know for sure. Vittoria is far more sluggish. Her impulses in between the Piero meetings are seen when she dresses up and dances for friends or randomly rides in an airplane to Verona with traveling friends. You're never really sure why she does any of these things. In life, though, you just do those things sometimes. The times when she just stops and looks at the things around her is a good demonstrator of what she's all about. Her face is pensive and wanting, but she never knows exactly what is is she needs.

The relationship really starts almost by accident. Vittoria becomes fascinated by a man who she is told just lost big in the market when it crashes and follows him around for a little bit. She bumps into Piero at a store where he buys her a drink. They form a fragile alliance where Piero wants what all guys want, and where Vittoria seems to blow hot and cold, much to Piero's confusion. The one thing that I didn't pick up until the end was the framing of Vittoria in relation to Piero. It's the exact way one of his former girlfriends is framed in an earlier scene, reminding us of exactly what Piero is all about. The relationship builds to the point where they seem to be in love, wasting time with each other and forgetting about the hustle and bustle of life. They remind each other of a meeting at their preferred spot, a construction site near Vittoria's apartment. After the promise of meeting, the characters are never scene again. It deconstructs to the point where by the end, you know both of them have come to the same conclusion that moving forward with the relationship would be a huge mistake. Maybe that's the really tough thing about watching it. The film begins with the termination of one love affair and ends with the scuttling of another. It seems to be nothing but narrative drift, but of course, that's Antonioni's purpose. Can you ever be satisfied? Trying to date Vittoria would be awful because you can never ever know her.

Watching L'eclisse on a large screen (HFA) really does the film justice for Antonioni's mise-en-scène, whether the focal point happens to be a rotating electric fan at dawn, a car with a corpse being hauled from a river, an illuminated street light at dusk, a couple necking on a sofa, or a crowd of screaming speculators. Even our misrecognition can play a role in the overall dynamics; characters with fleeting resemblances to Piero and Vittoria pass through the intersection where their meeting fails to take place, teasing us with possibilities. What's really hard to describe is the feeling that's left in the pit of your stomach when you are done watching it. If you combine the place of the meeting with the absence, and the mystery and uncertainty that pervades the entire film, what you are left with is the modern world. It's a place where all of us live, and where most stories are designed to protect us from the melancholy ache we are left with from L'eclisse. The entire trilogy is recommended if you like thinking about the way we treat each other as human beings in this modern age.

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