Silence is so much a feature of Michelangelo Antonioni’s films, it’s not just the subtitles as inter-titles that means that I view them almost as cinema muto. They are amongst the most carefully composed works in European cinema and the images always have as much meaning as the dialogue and greater resonance.
Remove all sound from this film and it would still have a lot to say and it would still reward repeated viewing with new thoughts and response. L'Eclisse also offers treacherous waters for interpretation and may trap your humble commentator in pseuds’ corner… but why not.
L'Eclisse (The Eclipse) is regarded as the last part of a trilogy preceded by L'Avventura (1960) and La Notte (1961) - all essays on modernism, architecture, politics and communication: the spaces between people with the greatest gulf being between men and women. All three also feature Monica Vitti, an actress with supernatural expression who is capable of delivering the most impenetrable depths of nuanced uncertainty.
|Alain and Monica|
|Monica Vitti and Francisco Rabal|
The opening section sees Vittoria breaking up with her long-term partner Riccardo (Spanish actor Francisco Rabal) after an agonised all-night attempt to talk it over… The characters are shown at exhausted angles as they move awkwardly around the room, like caged animals tortured by incomprehension at their own captivity. Riccardo’s apartment is packed full of modern art, books and aesthetic artifice – is there a genuine connection with his possessions?
Vittoria looks through a frame and pulls out a trinket the viewer may have seen as part of a picture: but it’s not real just an illusion. The house is on a new estate on the edge of Rome – all manicured lawns and quiet, ordered streets – the future of bourgeois living yet overlooked by a menacing water tower that has the slightest echoes of the mushroom clouds so threatening the World order at the time: the age of accumulated anxiety.
Vittoria escapes the attentions of her new ex and goes to find her mother in Rome’s stock exchange - the Bourse. Milan was and is the main exchange in Italy but the Roman version was favoured by smaller investors. Antonioni shot over the weekend with a good many stockbrokers guesting as extras for authenticity… their work all sweaty, panicked shouting for an edge in an exchange where values may shift at the slightest rumour, miss-calculation or pronouncement from a trusted source.
|Lilla Brignone and Monica Vitti|
|Monica Vitti, Mirella Ricciardi and Rosanna Rory|
|Childlike responses to night-time strangeness|
Vittoria flies with Anita and her husband over to Verona for another interlude. As she wanders the airfield taking in the unfamiliarity she passes two African men sitting outside a café: nothing happens in the film by accident.
|The trading floor|
|Millions of Lira lost, the man takes a tranquilizer and draws flowers...|
Piero is lightning quick at calculating opportunities on the markets but he can’t “play” Vittoria and can't absorb her fluctuations in the way he can company data. For her part, Vittoria doesn’t understand his fascination with making money… she’s more interested in working out the world around her and – at the very least – finding something different, something real.
They agree to meet once more but the film ends with multiple images of their regular meeting place; the finer details, the water butt – now burst open and flooding the pavement – the building works, passers-by, the city making its way oblivious to the significance of the empty space on the corner of the street and of the unbridgeable gaps in human understanding: the spaces between us all.
The cinematography of regular Antonioni collaborator Gianni Di Venanzo, is superb and allied to the director’s choice of locations presents an other-worldly view of a progressive Italy that still looks modern half a century later. These new suburban vistas are almost empty and with nary a car in sight whilst near silence provides an almost ever present soundtrack to Vittoria’s un-spoken reconnaissance as she slowly walks the streets.
Vitti’s self-control is supreme and she manages to convey so much with expressive economy – her face a picture of studied neutrality and her eyes giving away only the possibilities of her thoughts. By contrast Delon’s Pieor is impulsive and cock-sure: the unreality of monetary gain being its own reward: an end unto itself and the irrational refuge of many a modern careerist.
It’s available direct from Criterion on DVD or Blu-ray or from Amazon.
|Who is the nurse and where is she going?|