Saturday, June 28, 2008

[Michelangelo Antonioni Retrospective] L'Eclisse (The Eclipse) (1962)

No No No!

Lorenzo Codelli highlighted to us that this was the first time that Michelangelo Antonioni had back to back to back productions, with the famed Trilogy movies released over a span of 3 years. And they cover distinct cities in Italy too, with the poorest parts of Italy in L'Avventura, the industrial capital Milan in La Notte, which had a lot of dialogue, and here, it's set in Rome. Compared to his peer Fellini, Antonioni preferred to shoot using real settings, which gives his films a kind of documentary like feel, versus Fellini's preference for recreating sets indoors. Being the last film that Antonioni shot in black and white, it closes a chapter and with colour in The Red Desert, opens a new one.

L'Eclisse opens with a man and woman in total silence in an apartment. The woman behaves in a restless manner, moving from one area to the next, while the man remained seated on an armchair, unmoved. It went on for a few minutes, in utter silence save for the whirring sound of a table fan. But when they start to speak, we realize that Riccardo (Francisco Rabal) and Vittoria (Monica Vitti, whom I thought looked the most gorgeous in an Antonioni movie role so far) are in the midst of a potential breakup. The reason is not given despite the former's probe, whether there was someone else coming between them. He gets a response he doesn't believe in, but realizes nonetheless that Vittoria has lost all feelings for him, for one reason or another. He sees her home as he always does, and says goodbye for the very last time.

For some strange reason, it reminded me painfully of my own experience, so the opening scene served as a clincher right from the start. It's easy to relate to Riccardo because I too found it somewhat incomprehensible, and whatever he tried to do later - seeing her back, trying to call her later and so on, rings a bell that goes far back. But this is not a story about my life, but it's Michelangelo Antonioni's final movie in his loose Alienation trilogy, which I felt was the most accessible of them all, despite its extremely abstract finale consisting of a montage of images, lasting for a few minutes.

In essence, I thought L'Eclisse contained what was essentially a very easy-to-follow story, with charismatic leads with whom you're able to hook your attention to, and while it continues with its crafting of powerful characters with complicated problems to deal with, it doesn't overwhelm and allows some breathing space to appreciate them a bit more. But I note that my focus had turned away from the "same-old" relationship issues, to the floor of the stock exchange, where Alain Delon's Piero got introduced, and in which the film seemed to spend a lot of time with a showcase of how deals were made through cryptic shouting and hand signals, which still has its usefulness in today's modern context, except for the bit where phone calls were still taken from the booths in harried manner.

With Piero as a hot shot stockbroker, it allowed for this indulgence in setting many scenes in and around the stock exchange, where professionals and curious public punters gather to listen in for the best deals, and fervently place their bets. Perhaps one of the key takeaways here is that it served as a cautionary tale of blindly following the masses into stocks and commodities without fully understanding and appreciating the risks involved, with a fear of poverty spearheading a belief that the stockmarket provides an avenue for get rich quick schemes.

But back to our lovebirds Piero and Vittora, it's a fairly simple courtship ritual they embark upon, with Piero being persistent in his chase, and Vittora being afraid to commit, especially since she's just coming out of a relationship where her feelings for her ex-lover inexplicably died off. There were some unintentionally comic moments in this chase that provided again a brief reprieve from the heaviness in its theme, and I can never get that very loud and rude "PRONTO!!" answer to a phone call out of my mind, where a hesitant cold call by Vittora to Piero caught him unexpectedly in a wrong mood. However, amongst the Trilogy, I felt this one had one of the more positive endings compared to the rest, with unflinching hope settled upon quite clearly, sans the last few minutes.

As mentioned earlier, L'Eclisse has this end montage sequence that included revisits of the venues that the lovebirds had been to during the course of the story, and others. To me they seem quite jarring and I never fully understood their inclusion to round up the movie. But one thing I'm sure of, is that in Piero's mesmerizing mansion, his study had one of those pens which I'll be on the lookout for, and most definitely will get one for my personal use!


Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Well, your swell review and the movie reminded me of another Antonioni movie, Breathless, for both your review and the movie got me gasping for more.

And, Monica Vitti indeed looked more gorgeous than any of the ravishing European lead actresses of her time.

Btw, if you happen to find one of those pens then please do buy one for me as well :-)

Stefan S said...

Hello Murtaza, I think you may be referring to Godard's Breathless?

Yeah, Monica Vitti fits like hand in glove in any of Antonioni's films! If I do come across those pens, I'll let you know :D

Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Yes, you are spot on! Btw, I am extremely sorry for confusing Godard's Breathless with Antonioni's Blow Up! But, I couldn't really help it, for both the movies had left me in a state of frenzy--albeit for different reasons :-)

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