L'Eclisse March 4, 2015
Vittoria is dissatisfied with love. With life. With the world. She stands before us in a slinky black dress, her white-blonde hair afraid of another tease, her cat eyes worried they might look the other way and find yet another object that brings her no happiness. A light breeze hits her, idling from an electric fan that can barely suppress the unbearable heat that has consumed the neighborhood. She wanders about the room like a fashion model clamoring for a good shot, only to promptly lie down on a sofa in protest. As she regains the strength to pick herself back up, she walks over to her lover. “I’m leaving,” Vittoria announces.
A few moments go by. Vittoria wants to explain herself; she wishes she could deliver yet another “it’s not you, it’s me” spiel — but she can’t. She doesn’t know what she wants, she doesn’t know if love is enough, and she sure as hell doesn’t know how to explain the emptiness she feels in such a repetitive continuum. But she knows one thing; one more minute of her current life and she might scream her lungs out into a vacant room.
Michelangelo Antonioni is fascinated by dissolution, disappearance, and death. In his L’Avventura, a woman simply vanishes into thin air after a boating trip to a remote island. In 1966’s Blowup, a dead body is discovered in a park through a series of voyeuristic photos. (Problem is, the crime may just be an illusion.)
The final film in an unofficial trilogy preceded by L'Avventura and La Notte, L’Eclisse is a labyrinth of silence and oppression in which you cannot quite grasp your motives or your temptations. Communication only seems to be comfortable when within the barriers of small talk and flirtations. Everyone is so materialistic that if you suddenly died from a heart attack, everyone would gasp for vivid emphasis but turn around and continue their self-serving without mourning. L’Eclisse has the optimism of a cynical teenager or a recently divorced 51-year-old man, questioning if life really matters and if romance really can make all the difference. It’s enormously heavy, and Antonioni drizzles a rich icing of alienation and isolation atop its storyline with the care of a master chef.
The luminous Monica Vitti portrays Vittoria with such warm-blooded specificity that the coldness of her mental state comes by as a surprise. She is slowly losing the carefree euphoria of her youth, and is beginning to wonder if life, as repetitive as it is, is all that it’s cracked up to be. After breaking up with her long-term lover, she begins to find herself attracted to Piero (an always charismatic Alain Delon), a younger stockbroker who emanates confidence and fortunately lacks the acumen which made her former partner such an unwavering bore.
It doesn’t take long for them to embark upon a blazing affair. But even with lingering infatuation on their side, they are confronted with their innermost fears, hurting their chances of lasting love.
L’Eclisse is not so much a love story as it is an expression of loneliness; the central characters want their hesitations to come to an end, but they can’t seem to get themselves to be fulfilled no matter what direction they move toward. As children, they were told that love and marriage and kids and a big house were all you needed to find happiness. But as they age, it becomes increasingly clear that such elementary ideas were merely a distraction, not a solution.
Antonioni can’t answer the existenstial questions he poses with such ardor, but he asks them so desperately that it proves to be impossible to finish the film without a feeling of despair at the pit of your stomach. The conclusion, which finds both characters out of the picture, is simply a series of shots of the city that rattle. It’s a courageous way to end a film, but it only deepens what Antonioni was going for already. What if love doesn’t matter? What if life doesn’t matter? What if we’re alone for the rest of our lives? Will anyone care? If sexy stars like Monica Vitti and Alain Delon can’t lose themselves in a syrupy love story that tricks us into thinking that the world isn’t such a cruel place, then who can? A