“As long as we were in love, we understood each other. There was nothing to understand.”
I saw Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up a few years ago and really liked it. It was one of those movies I knew was revered as a modern classic that needed to be ticked off my list. Ever since then, Antonioni’s name will pop into my head every now and again as a dude whose work I know I need to see more of. But I never do. Until I decided to do a week of Italian movies. Turns out, when you google ‘classic Italian movies’, a few Antonioni joints are gonna pop up. Including L’Eclisse.
It’s the morning after. The morning after what, we do not know. But it’s obvious that it’s the end of a relationship between Vittoria (Monica Vitti) and Riccardo (Francisco Rabal). We get no flashbacks, no overt, expositional dialogue about the history of their relationship. But this one conversation is enough to fill in enough blanks, and let us know that while there’s real passion between these two, Vittotia has decided passion isn’t enough. Eventually, Riccardo realises he can’t convince her otherwise.
Later, Vittoria visits her mother (Lila Birgnone) at the Rome stock exchange where a young trader, Piero (Alain Delon) overhears an inside tip that leads to a substantial profit for Virroria’s mother. A profit large enough to make her kind of dismissive of Vittoria’s story of heartbreak. Vittoria then looks for empathy in her friend and neighbour, Anita (Rosanna Rory). But that night leads to an uncomfortable incident with another neighbour (Mirella Ricciardi as Marta) in black face and a heated debate about the morality of colonisation. Until, all of a sudden, the character if Vittoria is kind of abandoned, and the movie starts to follow Piero, the stock exchange trader.
All of that is to say, L’Eclisse isn’t really concerned with your regular movie story arc. This is more a series of events, not always necessarily connected on a literal level. Vittoria and Piero have no clearly identified goals or motivations in the way movies usually give their protagonists. They’re obviously going through internal journeys, and Antonioni’s’s screenplay and direction give the audience enough credit that we’ll see it happening under the surface. We don’t need Vittoria and Piero to declare their feelings at every second. We see their feelings in action through the decisions they make.
Visually, every frame is jam packed. People are constantly in close ups, taking up the majority of the frame. And on the rare occasions that they’re not, the background will be packed with paintings on walls, ornaments on tables, mirrors giving us multiple views of the room and its inhabitants. It’s full and interesting, without evert becoming cluttered or too busy.
Full disclosure, I watched L’Eclisse once and enjoyed it while having basically no clue about what was going on. Well, that’s not true, I spent that first viewing thinking I had no idea what was going on. Then I watched it again with a commentary track by, Richard Peña, former program director of the Film Society Of Lincoln Center. And that made me feel like real top shit. Because, according to Peña, there isn’t anything to get in the traditional sense. All of a sudden my confusion turned to appreciation. It’s seemingly rambling, unfocused and uneventful on the surface, while having a million plates spinning just underneath.