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L’Eclisse (1962)

August 30th, 2007 · 6 Comments

After exploring the art of remakes, I’m embarking on a quest for some bona fide art cinema. Here’s the last of five articles on the films of Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007). I wrote this while sipping coffee product I can neither spell nor pronounce.

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By Joe Valdez

Walking out on her boyfriend (Francisco Rabal) after what appears to have been an exhaustive all-night break up, Vittoria (Monica Vitti) seeks a sympathetic ear. She wanders over to the Roman Stock Exchange, where she finds her mother gambling. A young, energetic stockbroker named Piero (Alain Delon) is more interested in Vittoria than her mother seems to be in her.

Up late, Vittoria receives a visit from her neighbor Anita (Rossana Rory). They attract the attention of Marta (Mirella Ricciardi), who invites them to her apartment. Marta is daughter of a planter in Kenya. She reminisces about Africa and disparages the Kenyans for attempting to expel Europeans from the country. The party breaks up when Marta’s dog escapes and Vittoria goes searching for it.

A stock market crash costs Vittoria’s mother millions of lira and forces Piero to begin collecting from his various clients. He finds the time to woo Vittoria. Though attracted to him, her feelings of restlessness keep her aloof from his charms. As they spend time walking through sunny Rome, the city seems to physically personify the emptiness that Vittoria feels about the modern world.

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Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and co-written with Tonino Guerra from a story by Elio Bartolini & Ottiero Ottieri, L’Eclisse marked the end of a loosely connected trilogy (including L’Avventura and La Notte) exploring love and alienation among the nouveau riche of postwar Italy. Many – like Kimberly at Cinebeats – consider this the best, even one of the greatest foreign films of all time.

Abandoning conventional narrative, employing long takes and longer running times, asking questions instead of answering them, all of the films in this series have amazed and frustrated me to varying degrees. L’Eclisse ultimately wore me out. Moments of sublime beauty are undone by tediousness, and that’s before Antonioni arrives at one of the more esoteric finales I’ve endured in recent memory.

Antonioni captures the energy of the Roman Stock Exchange with a terrific eye, while a scene where Monica Vitti comes across flagpoles harmonizing in the night wind inspires both awe and unease. Vitti is vibrant opposite Alain Delon, but the film becomes more pretentious in its imagery, until Antonioni can’t be bothered to even have his stars on screen for the final, baffling seven minutes. Never a fan of music, the minimal score here is particularly wretched.

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“It has moments of beauty and clarity that will shift your soul into a position of pure pleasure, and it contains performances that perfectly capture the melancholy and the restlessness … But it’s also unrewarding and a little distant, the kind of movie that requires an investment of time and temperament that many moviegoers no longer possess,” writes Bruce Gibron at DVD Talk.

Alex McDonald at State of the Arts says, “Even after over forty years it remains an enigmatic piece of cinema and an unnerving depiction of love in an atomized world.”

Monica Vitti, nocturnal Rome, flagpoles in the breeze. View a beautiful scene in a very problematic film.

Tags: Ambiguous ending

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pat Evans // Aug 31, 2007 at 4:08 am

    I truly admire your stamina at being able to watch this movie three times over a short period of time. Twice in about ten years was the best I could manage and I still don’t get Antonioni, who seemed to specialise in exquisitely boring films.

  • 2 Kimberly // Sep 1, 2007 at 10:51 am

    I actually think all of Antonioni’s early films are some of the best films (Foreign or domestic) ever made.

    L’Eclisse was just the one I picked for the list I was sked to participate in making, but I had a hard time choosing between it and his others.

    A few words of advice. Trying to catch up with some of the greatest art films ever made in such a short period of time is really problematic. They deserve much more attention and thought then your average Hollywood blockbuster only concerned with making a buck. I would suggest revisiting Antonioni’s films again sometime and I also suggest reading a bit more about the man’s work so you can understand more about what he was doing. Antonioni, or, The Surface of the World by Seymour Chatman is a good place to start.

    I also recommend listening to the audio commentary on the Criterion DVDs after you’ve seen the films.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Sep 1, 2007 at 11:23 am

    Pat: I was so happy when this series was over. I felt like rewarding myself by watching Terminator, like when you used to get candy after a trip to the doctor. I know that immunization is important, but damm that hurt.

    Kimberly: Antonioni does require a great deal of reflection, no argument there. Even Roger Ebert panned The Passenger when it was released, only to retract his review 20 years later.

    I’m suspicious about movies that you need to watch three or four times and spend a year mulling over before you can appreciate them. La dolce vita blew me away the very first time I watched it. I could say the same of The Apartment or Jules et Jim. However, I agree with you that Antonioni is somewhat of a unique case. The more I pondered L’Avventura or Blow Up, the more I appreciated what he did, something that is not typically the case with Hollywood films produced today.

    I hope you don’t think I included a link to Cinebeats to attack your taste though. If anything, I want people to check out your excellent site, where someone is writing about some of these same films with far more intelligence and computer literacy than me.

  • 4 Kimberly // Sep 1, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    No worries Joe!

    I’ve just noticed that a lot of fellow bloggers seems to be trying to play “catch up” with these great art films in a short period of time and I don’t think that’s possible. They start labeling the films “pretensious” and “hard to watch” in the process.

    I for one often need weeks to fully think about and write about a really complex film. I watched Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Pitfall almost 2 weeks ago and I’m still thinking about the film and trying to absorb it before I attempt to write about it. It was such a draining experience that I couldn’t watch another film for a few days afterward.

    I think art films should be viewed as art instead of entertainment. Watching a lot of them all at once and trying to review them is sort of of like walking into a museum and being confronted with one of Picasso’s more complex paintings for the first time and only having an hour or two to absorb it. Then you force yourself to try and quickly understand what he was trying to say and write an opinion about it. I can often appreciate good films and art after I study it for long periods of time, learn what the artists or filmmaker were trying to say and approach it with their eyes as well as my own. I also think historical context is very important.

    After 3 Antonioni films you’ve earned yourself a break! Watch The Terminator and give yourself a rest.

    After lots of heady art films I usually need to watch something like Umberto Lenzi’s cheezy zombie epic Nightmare City just to give my brain a rest. Keep in mind that I’m a woman who put Female Prisoner Scorpion on my favorite Foreign film list right next to L’ Eclisse. In turn I’ve been called “pretentious,” “elitist” and “illiterate” all at the same time. Who knew you could be all three things at once? 😉

  • 5 Vince O. // Feb 22, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    As a painter, and student of art history, it is natural for me to look at movies in the context of when they were made. Antonioni’s “L’Avventura” grabbed me immediately, mostly due to the compelling framing and composition. I felt the strong undercurrent and tension between the characters, but was not sure why. Also, the mystery of a key star/character disappearing, without explanation, intrigued me more than bothered me. Kimberly was correct: watch it again on DVD with commentary to really grasp it all. It’s not for everyone…but one does not look to “The Godfather” to get what they do from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” for example. All films have different intentions behind them. C&W music offers different sensibilities than jazz. Rock music is even different from Rock n’ Roll. Historically, this “trilogy” of films by M.A. broke new ground. In the end, perhaps these movies are more appreciated than enjoyed. As the commentator on the DVD explained, “Nothing is happening, yet everything is happening (between the characters).” Upon further review, the “L’aventure” is brilliant! I’m looking forward to seeing “L’eclisse.”

  • 6 Vince O. // Feb 22, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    –just to add: the “slowness” and pacing of the film foreshadowed what Serigo Leone did in his Clint Eastwood westerns, and other films, while greatly influencing the tempo that other directors later employed. M.A. made it work: slow pacing to create tension and a psychological story below the surface.

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