Clouds of Metallic Loneliness in Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (1962) November 12, 2007Posted by Richard Bolisay in European Films.
English Title: The Eclipse
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Written by Tonino Guerra and Michelangelo Antonioni
Cast: Monica Vitti, Alain Delon, Francisco Rabal
Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse is the bomb—its piercing shrapnel scattered all over—and it explodes like the most deafening grenade of terror, except that there’s no sound, not even a single decibel, because we become too comfortable with noise, with pulsating action, with blood rushing through our heads, that a mental atomic explosion is reduced to a whisper, to a whimpering silence. The MRI result shows that it is a combustion of the soul—the self-regulating furnace of one’s self—slowly turning into ashes, and all left is a history of emotions, a medley of unspoken and unrequited feeling, a complete absence of an absence.
I stand firmly by the assertion that aside from Neorealism, Italy’s greatest contribution to world cinema is Antonioni. He invented a language, he painted a landscape, he showed us the emptiness of modern world, he filled spaces with more spaces, he populated the Earth with Martians, he framed human beings in similar importance to objects and structures, he presented metaphysics and agnosticism in a different light, and he left us with a celestial body of works that represented what had not been represented before, an oeuvre that could launch a revolution of the soul, films that raised the bar of cinematic art. Antonioni is the chief architect of cinema who can build castles of solitude in a single frame, weave a universe of prolonged sorrow in a simple gaze, and design our lives in granules so that we can inspect them much closer. In Antonioni’s eyes, everything is profound and nothing is complicated. Contrary to Faye Wong’s character in Chungking Express who listens to loud music to stop her from thinking, Antonioni drags us into his world to think, to give us all the time in the world to think, to think and nothing else. Incidentally, cult favorite Wong Kar-wai openly expresses his admiration to Antonioni, citing him as one of his major influences on his films.
After the art-house notoriety of L’Avventura and La Notte, expectations to his next feature must have been immense. Yet forty-five years later, in that same world, the same world manned by money-eyed monsters, L’Eclisse is still up there, constantly moving us, trailing us down to the deepest pits of despair and loss. The narrative starts midway through the film, commenced by a lethargic build-up, with wayward lovers Vittoria and Piero realizing what sparks between them is neither love nor passion but dualism. The pacing defies patience, as it can almost be perceived as indulgence leading to nothingness, but it pays off—the drift not only reflects the minds of its characters, Vittoria in particular, but also the elements of their world, the architectural spaces that reflect their DNAs, the loss of meaning, even abstract ideas themselves. Furthermore, the first half feels like a sport event: the break-up, a tug-of-war of fatal gazes, the stock market, a boxing ring between bald men and neurotic women throwing notebooks, and the apartment visit when Vittoria plays a Negro serves as an intermission, an exposition of cultural mockery that ends up offending her audience. These carefully-drawn details pile up like an eternal stack of books; then like dominoes relentlessly falling forward, they lead to an almost chimerical finish, a monumental closure comparable to the lasting importance of Alfred Wegener’s continental drift theory to science.
Monica Vitti fits perfectly to Antonioni’s jigsaw puzzles. She radiates with blinding beauty but unaware of it because she always looks unconscious. Perhaps the thing I admire most about her physical beauty is her hair— you just have to see it—it’s so gorgeous you might find yourself in the nearest salon to pay homage. Having said that, I want to reveal a discovery: I have three people in mind who can master the act of intergalactic stare at its finest. The first one is already a give-away: Tony Leung, his eyes filled with love and passion; Takeshi Kitano, his stare that commands fear and violence; and Vitti, her gaze filled with nothing, nothing, and nothing else. But the irony is, it reveals more. On the other hand, Alain Delon is a sight to behold. His face can launch a thousand missiles, his heavenly cheekbones, his choreographed movement. Antonioni directs him with such care and precision I almost forgot how lousy he is in The Leopard. When he says to Vittoria, When we get there, I’m going to kiss you, it is not threatening but exactly the opposite: he demands adoration that you wish you are just the woman he is speaking with.
The ending—a culmination of a supposed romance, a rendezvous that no one remembered—is an ethereal montage of things the couple shared together: the lights, the shadows, the sound of silence, the gushing wind, the flow of water, the Martian clouds, the hollow blocks and the unfinished building, the city lights, the lifeless city itself, everything that bears witness to their short-lived relationship adds to the mystic resonance of this science-fiction film, accompanied by the moving poles at night and a total eclipse of the heart. * * * * *