L’eclisse by Michelangelo Antonioni (1962) has a simple story, but it’s rich with subtexts, complex undertones and themes not fully explored- typical of Antonioni’s treatment. The mood of this movie is melancholy I would say, yet with the director’s deliberation towards its mise-en-scéne, it is sufficiently subtly sensuous and spectacular to put a spin on the drama that is Vittoria’s doomed love affair.
One of Antonioni’s favourite themes is Alienation; and he seems determined to do all he can to deliver a sense of Disconnection, whether it’s amongst the characters, in the environment, or even between actor and audience. One scene that conveniently embodies all 3 examples is when our protagonist Vittoria, goes to visit the home of Marta, a lady who has returned from Kenya.
In this scene, Vittoria is looking at the pictures of people from Africa
However, it suddenly cuts to this shot.
The audience is momentarily disorientated by the sudden presence of this strange looking individual. If is as if one of the pictures had come alive and it feels as it we are in a different place, but actually it’s Vittoria dressing up as an African. Without any transition to show a change in appearance however, there’s a feeling of disjointedness, as if the audience were being thrust into completely foreign surroundings that are unsettling and help foster a sense of disconnection in their uncertainty.
…till she is abruptly interrupted by Marta who in curt, brusque tones tells her to ‘stop playing at Negroes’.
The actress delivering her lines has her back toward the audience, obscuring her face from view and generating yet another sense of disconnection.We now have to rely on the other two women’s reactions and body language to discern the situation, but they are a poor supplement for expression and we are still disconnected in our confusion at the now tangible tension.
However, this tension is unspoken and undeveloped as there’s no more dialogue from Marta about the matter, creating a sudden end to the scene and more disconnection, also amongst the characters.
Vittoria is largely disconnected with the few people she interacts with throughout the film in any case. In fact, she seems disengaged from the very world, as hinted by the frequent shots of her standing alone in wide expanses of vast open spaces, with an air of desolation about her.
From the very beginning of the film, she breaks up with her ex-fiance, Ricardio. Her relationship with her mother is little better, as her mother is caught up in her municipal business of the stock-market, a key area Antonioni utilizes to emphasize ‘alienation in an increasingly mechanized world’ (L’eclisse Synopsis, Criterion Collection).
One of his beliefs was that this modern culture increased isolation in individuals, partly on account of the more materialistic mindsets people had. This nature is exampled in the metaphor of Mr Domenico’s death, a man working at the stock market.
His colleague announces that his passing is because of a heart attack, and calls for a moment of silence in the middle of the daily financial furor that occurs at stock markets everywhere.
However, even in the midst of the ‘moment of silence’, the jarring shrill rings of the telephone play on. When a bell sounds, the crowd return to their clamoring.
The scene is bleakly, morbidly farcical, for even the emotions seem mechanized as at the ring of a bell, the show of pseudo-humanity and empathy ends and the people break out immediately into their shouting. There is one particular line: “Our emotions at this moment prevent us from finding suitable words to describe our friend” which is cleverly phrased as it offers dual interpretation; it would appear that these are not overpowering emotions of grief, but instead an overwhelming sense of urgency to get back to business as promptly as possible.
Given that the above is in fact the case, it probably is a time constraint preventing them from giving even the hastiest of eulogies, and not any sense of consternation or woe. What’s truly tragic is the possibility that even the moment of silence is done more out of social convention, or protocol than any genuine sympathy-suggesting just how mechanized our world and society is.
Incredibly, Antonioni has managed to find a method of dehumanizing death by routine, showing how especially isolated the individual is, beyond life. With this representation, he shows us the casually caustic culture of modern society in their pursuit of financial gain. The nature of Mr Domenico’s demise, a heart attack, also points to other foolish sacrifices made in favour of progress in the rat race.
L’eclisse was part of a trilogy preceded by L’aaventura (1960) and La Notte (1961), and the climax that ‘upped the ante of his provocative modernism [in its] defiance of narrative conventions and its chilling poetry of absence and desire’. (Jonathan Rosenbaum, A Vigilance of Desire) The most obviously unusual example that encompasses both these factors would be the final sequence that not only fails to include the two leads, but avoids any of the movie’s characters at all. The last scene is a vague montage of ‘objects and places overtaking and supplanting people’ with a unique innovative validity that is haunting. These 7 minutes seem pointless to the plot, and perhaps due to its limited relevance and e
ven less intrigue for some, L’eclisse was jeered at by the audiences at Cannes in 1962. However, those moments of limited relevance gave a genuine message that Film is limitless. As Martin Scorsese said in his documentary, Voyage to Italy, it is “a frightening way to end a film… but at the time it also felt liberating. The final seven minutes of Eclipse suggested to us that the possibilities in cinema were absolutely limitless.”
Film, and our interpretations of it, has no boundaries, as do our perspectives and creations. Creations that bring people together and perhaps, make us feel a little less alienated after all.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan. A Vigilance of Desire: Antonioni’s L’eclisse. 2005 [online] Accessed 20th June.
Brown, James. Michelangelo Antonioni. 2002 [online] Accessed 20th June.
Melzer, Zech. Michelangelo Antonioni and the Reality of Modern. 2010. [online] Accessed 20th June.
Wikipedia [online] Accessed 21st June.
About the author: Ilene is a writer who finds her fantasy
often occasionally eclipsed by reality; or perhaps it’s the product of an over-active imagination.