The Eclipse



Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Production Co.: Cineriz / Iteropa / Paris Film
Producers: Robert & Raymond Rakim
Screenplay: Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, Elio Bartolini & Ottiero Ottieri
Photography: Gianni De Venanzo
Editor: Eraldo Da Roma
Art director: Piero Poletto
Music: Giovanni Fusco
Song: 'Eclisse Twist' sung by Mina
Sound: Claudio Maielli
Vittoria: Monica Vitti
Piero: Alain Delon
Vittoria's lover: Francisco Rabal
Vittoria's mother: Lilla Brignone
Anita: Rosanna Rory
Marta: Mirella Ricciardi
Ercoli: Louis Seigner
The Drunk: Cyrus Elias
121 minutes
16 mm
Black & White
Italian, with English subtitles
GY Certificate
Donated in 1981 by the Auckland Film Society
I was 15 when I first saw Antonioni's L'Eclisse... The impact the film had on me in 1963 was devastating. It was unlike anything else I had seen, and it seemed to describe the kind of world into which we were moving - it was almost science fiction...
Antonioni's film was the first I saw that seemed to be made with acute awareness that the old myths, however comforting, were no longer adequate. It eschewed all certainties of characterisation, dramatic intent and narrative resolution. It was altogether a different sort of movie - it felt 'modern', its very fabric disturbed by an uncertainty that could now be said to underlie everything...
There is a story in L'Eclisse, but its emphases are elsewhere than usual. Monica Vitti leaves the apartment and begins a walk that lasts, in a way, for the majority of the film. Her journey is without any particular destination, a series of detours, explorations and, most importantly, distractions. These distractions are the substance of the story and include a brief relationship with Alain Delon...
As with Vitti's character, the film has a wandering, searching quality. Antonioni has been described as "the poet of alienation", and this is shown by Vittoria's detachment from the world - which may be interpreted as either a sign of health or equally of neurosis.
- Ron Peck, 'Chance Encounters', Sight & Sound, 12/94
Antonioni's L'Avventura (1960) is one of those heroic films that caused a riot at Cannes (not nearly so rare an occurrence as you might think). Revolutionary in its use of real time and employment of a seemingly minimal (though in fact rather eventful) narrative, it was the first in a series of films starring Monica Vitti in which Antonioni would explore his new aesthetic. L'Avventura, La Notte (1961) and L'Eclisse are conventionally considered a trilogy of modernist alienation, but the subsequent Il Deserto Rosso (1964), despite the radical deployment of colour for which it is famous, is very much in the same vein. With pop-cult classic Blow–Up in 1966 Antonioni would abandon asceticism (and, for a time, his native Italy) for slightly elliptical, slightly flamboyant counter-culture fashionability.
L'Eclisse, however, is the real thing. The feline features of Monica Vitti - born to be an icon - simultaneously evoke sympathetic fascination and resolutely refuse to reveal any of her character's secrets. The stoical Alain Delon, as in Melville's Le Samourai, is at his best cast for his impassivity. Only Lilla Brignone, as Vittoria's vivacious mother, gives anything away, but her preoccupation with the material means that her inner self remains guarded as well. In its own way, Antonioni's experiment with L'Eclisse is more radical than that of L'Avventura. The 1962 film lacks its predecessor's pulpish hook (however arbitrary that may have been) and its stunning ending is more uncompromisingly pessimistic.
All we have is the (moderate) interest generated by the characters, towards whom we never feel particularly close, and the (considerable) interest generated by the filmmaking technique. This must be one of the most precisely edited and paced films ever made. The measured rhythm of calm scenes is occasionally punctured by the fury of punchily edited scenes at the stock exchange. These rousing bursts of activity appear action-packed, although they in fact have no significance to the main plot whatsoever. In L'Eclisse Antonioni mastered the art of separating the action of the plot from the action of the screen. The most significant action in the narrative, and perhaps in the lives of the characters, is communicated by the absence of the characters from the image. There is always more to the cinema of Antonioni than the cool, empty compositons that meet the eye.
- A. L.
Vittoria, a beautiful young Roman who makes her living by translation, breaks off an affair with Riccardo and shortly afterwards drifts, at first unwillingly, into another affair with Piero, her mother's energetic young stockbroker.
On this slight thread of a story, Antonioni has constructed his most severe and rigorously disciplined film yet. Externally, the drama is virtually non-existent; more even than in L'Avventura and La Notte mere external action, plot content if you like, is reduced to a minimum (La Notte, indeed, looks positively melodramatic by comparison), and what we are given instead is a depiction of a series of soul-states. Maeterlinck would surely have recognised in L'Eclisse the logical development of his dramatic theories: underneath the verbiage he is talking about the same sort of approach to drama when he writes of "people in a room talking of the rain and the fine weather; but under this poor stuff their souls are holding such converse as no human wisdom could touch save at its peril; and this is why they have a kind of mysterious joy of their ennui without knowing that which within them is aware of the laws of life, of death and of love that pass like incorruptible floods about the house." Far from being the gloomy and depressing picture of emotional and spiritual aridity that a number of critics have chosen to regard it, L'Eclisse is a full-length portrait of someone vibrantly alive, with a soul more than half awakened to the full potentialities of her situation; it is a portrait of Vittoria.
This is achieved in two ways: by the remarkable performance Antonioni has extracted from Monica Vitti, and by his elaborate use of setting, climate and so on as an objective correlative of the emotions to be expressed. As for Vitti, it is difficult to know whether one can speak of a 'performance' at all: one can quite conceive that directed by anyone else but Antonioni she might seem quite unremarkable, just as Karina has seemed when directed by anyone other than Godard. Certainly in this film Vitti is used as a non-actress, an exquisite presence whose personality is used in the ways of which one suspects she herself is largely unaware; as a stage dramatist might urge his leading lady, "Don't act, just say the lines," so Antonioni might urge his ladies "Don't act, just be." Given that Vitti has the necessary quality in the first place - she is one of the few Garbo-type stars whom one has to watch willy-nilly whenever they come on screen - Antonioni has reinforced it here with extraordinary skill and subtlety.
His choice of objective correlatives is unerring: the bare, deserted corner by the building under construction, with its water-butt beneath the tree; the weird 1984-ish landscape of the opening sequence, with its mysterious mushroom tower outside Riccardo's house, and an affair coming painfully to an end inside; above all, the decors in which the characters live. They have, admittedly, been the cause of a number of misapprehensions about what Antonioni is trying to do. If one finds his world of stark, geometrical modern architecture, of white walls scattered with photographs and abstract art, with desks and shelves littered with books and objets trouvés, clinical and depressing in itself, one is likely to come to all sorts of conclusions about the "meaning" of the film (the impossibility of meaningful life in this sterile world, and all that), which do not seem to be part of his intention at all. With each film it becomes clearer that if Antonioni is trying to make any general statement at all, it is not about 'modern life', but about life per se. The world which his characters inhabit is an extension of their personalities, just as they, no doubt, are many extensions of his; each lives in surroundings of his or her own choosing (there is one beautiful moment when we witness Vittoria's secret, conspiratorial joy as she unwraps a new acquisition and lovingly finds a place for it in her flat), and these surroundings play an unusually active part in the film, elucidating character, creating mood, and giving us insight past history almost without our being aware of it. But basically, I am sure, Antonioni approves of his characters' taste; it is his reasons for finding them interesting which are reflected in their homes, not his reasons for finding them sterile and pitiable.
- John Russell Taylor, Monthly Film Bulletin, 3/63