L’ECLISSE directed by Michelangelo Antonioni (Italy, 1962)
Mostly, we watch movies as a means of seeking relief from the worries and tedium of everyday life but, with deliberate perversity, Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (Eclipse) makes no attempt to cater to this desire for contrived entertainment or escapism.
It’s a movie about nothing and everything with a plot so paper-thin it would fit on a post-it note. My summary would be : A young woman leaves her older husband – she meets a younger man – she doesn’t love either – she doesn’t know what she really wants.
The setting is Rome, but apart from the frenetic activity of the city’s stock exchange it looks like a ghost city. Many shots would not be out-of-place in the Sci-Fi classic, The Day The Earth Stood Still. When we do see the inhabitants, most of them look haunted, bored and ill at ease.
The narrative is linear yet the story feels as mysterious and enigmatic as one of David Lynch’s waking dream sequences.
Vittoria (Monica Vitti),the young woman,is so alluring and aloof she might have been John Lennon’s model for The Beatles’ song Girl: “When you say she’s looking good, she acts as if it’s understood – she’s cool”
The film begins with her leaving Riccardo – he is distrait and begs her to stay. “I want to make you happy”, he says. “When we met, I was happy” she replies. For her, he belongs in the past tense.
She meets a younger man ,Piero (Alain Delon), the stock broker of Vittoria’s mother and a prototype yuppie.
Vittoria is attracted to him but we never know what she’s really thinking or feeling. She flirts,smiles, plays peek-a-boo, kisses him through a glass door and after finally giving in to his advances she says she would prefer not to be in love with him.
Vittoria is critical of Piero’s materialistic outlook. When his sports car is stolen by a drunk and driven into a river, he frets about repairing his car and seems not to give a thought to the man who drowned in the accident.
There are hints that Vittoria’s more humanistic, poetic temperament influences his behaviour. In his home ,after they have made love, he puts six telephones back on their receivers but when one rings, he doesn’t answer it. It’s as if he doesn’t want to return so quickly to his old routine.
Although this couple make an amorous connection there’s a strong sense that they remain strangers to each other.
The boldest part of the movie is the ending; a seven minute montage of images which are familiar details and backdrops from earlier in the movie. For example, a sprinkler, which Vittoria had played with, is turned off: a water barrel, where she had discarded a piece of wood,springs a leak.
Antonioni offers no clues as to how to read this unusual closing sequence. It prompted me to look up the dictionary definition of the word ‘eclipse’ and the one I took as the most fitting was: “A fall into obscurity or disuse, a decline”.
But the director poses an open question as to whether we should see the closing images as symbolic of endings or regard them as signs of things beginning anew. The shot of an old building undergoing major renovation,for instance, could be interpreted as either.
L’Eclisse is a curiously static movie but even though the lack of action and arty style is at times frustrating, the delectable beauty, grace and charisma of Monica Vitti is ample compensation.