Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Alain Delon, Monica Vitti
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 125 Minutes
Release Date: June 10, 2014
“As long as we were in love, we understood each other. There was nothing to understand.”
Michelangelo Antonioni is one of those directors who make me focus on my own shortcomings as a film fan. I mean, have you ever watched a movie you didn’t like, but somehow felt the fact that you didn’t like it said more about you than it did about the film?
My earliest experience with the Italian Antonioni was with his first attempt at an American film, Zabriskie Point, a quite bad offering about American counter-culture whose only redeeming offering was a score composed by Pink Floyd. I was very young when I saw it, and admittedly, maybe it left me with a bit of a bad window through which to view his other works.
He may be most famous for a trilogy (of sorts) of films about modern alienation. L’Eclisse was the final, following L’Avventura and La Notte. In L’avventura, an outdoor party finds one of their own inexplicably disappeared, and instead of turning into a mystery, the film becomes a lament by the self-centered…did it even matter that the person vanished without a trace?
L’Eclisse is more rooted in reality. It is amazingly filmed and directed, which is quite a compliment for a movie that seems to have no focus or point. And many have argued that the lack of a point IS, in fact, the point…but then, you can see why I brand this picture as one that makes me think about why I couldn’t get into it.
Even the opening credits toy with your expectations. The graphics are very 60s styled, making with music that makes you think of a swinging good time, but then…without warning, the music turns into sinister, disturbing tones, as though a sinister mystery were afoot. Which type of film are we actually in for? Neither.
In the opening, Vittoria (Vitti) is with her…husband? Boyfriend? We aren’t sure, but there is a full five minutes of silence between them before one speaks. “I am leaving,” she says. “Are you going somewhere?” he asks. That’s what she just said, wasn’t it?
There is no communication, so Antonioni hints at their story via placement and camerawork. And this sets up the style of the rest of the movie, which is a disjointed, meandering epic in search of meaning.
For example, the next segment is Vittoria and two girlfriends in one of their apartments, where the owner is obsessed with Africa. This leads to a primitive dance not only in blackface, but full black body, and awkward conversations about how the African natives were like monkeys. Yeesh.
Next segment has Vittoria on the floor of a busy stock exchange seeking out her mother, who loves to play the market, and giving us our first glimpse of Piero (Delon), who will be the other major player in the story, but we don’t know it yet.
The film then loses sight of Vittoria for a bit to focus on Piero, and especially how he handles a day’s devastating market downturn. In some of these scenes, we begin to either appreciate the genius of Antonioni as a director, or begin to lose patience with him. There are moments when his camera seems so listless that it forgets the main players and follows extras around for a moment or two…people who don’t support the story, but some of whom are indeed glimpsed again at the end, for those who are paying attention.
Piero and Vittoria are destined to come together, but forget conventional romance. Even sex and seduction seem disappointing and alienating, save for one stretch where both seem to really lose all inhibitions and giggle and laugh like children. But this is sandwiched between stretches of what seems like quiet sadness, and without any definition of how much time has passed in between.
We expect resolution; will they find what they are looking for in one another, or will they end as they began, apart? Here’s where Antonioni really messes with his viewers’ heads. The last seven minutes or so of the film is apart from both of them. Shots of landscapes, buildings, people…all places and faces we have actually seen here and there throughout the movie.
But where are the leads? They are not to be seen again…the film simply quietly contemplates…well…whatever it contemplates. It’s a fascinating stretch, and a bold one, and if I’ve seemed a little dismissive of the work as a whole up til now, I must make it clear that I admired what Antonioni did here. It frustrated me, but at the same time, to deny me the resolution that my Hollywood-soaked brain so eagerly craved and expected? That’s chutzpah.
So my overall assessment: at no point during this movie did I feel like I wasn’t in the hands of an absolute master of a director. But at the same time, his exploration of themes of isolation and alienation had that exact same effect on me. I admired the craft, but never warmed to the movie.
This is a stunning, superior black-and-white high definition transfer from Criterion. The contrast levels are remarkable, from the deepest blacks to the lightest whites, and the details are amazing in shot after shot. The print is remarkably clean and crisp. Highest marks!
The mono soundtrack is suitable; there is almost no music save for the opening credits and the African dance. Everything else is driven by dialogue (in Italian), but I found nothing to complain about.
The movie and extras are all on one Blu-ray or spread out over two DVDs. They include an excellent and informative commentary by film scholar Richard Pena, along with two documentaries: an hour-long one on Antonioni, and one focused more entirely on L’eclisse. There is also a booklet featuring writings from Antonioni and other essays.
L’eclisse is a much admired offering from Michelangelo Antonioni that I don’t have great affection for, but again…I keep feeling like the shortcoming is mine instead of his. It’s rare that I say that about a movie that didn’t captivate me, so that alone is possibly praise enough. This excellent Blu-ray/DVD set from Criterion is worth checking out for those seeking something out of the mainstream.