“Two people shouldn’t know each other too well if they want to fall in love. But, then, maybe they shouldn’t fall in love at all.” – Vittoria
When it comes to being aloof, apathetic, and distant Monica Vitti knew no equal, and she works so marvelously against the worlds that Michelangelo Antonioni creates. Her sultry pair of eyes speaks volumes as far as sensuality and charm — making words hardly necessary. When we look at her and how she moves so indifferently through this romantic space with her former lover, it becomes all too obvious. There’s no feeling there. There’s no magic left to be tapped into. That happens with love sometimes, and it’s excruciatingly painful, even to watch.
In these opening minutes, nothing is said yet it’s hardly boring. There’s something tantalizing about sitting and waiting for some piece of exposition to come our way. Besides Antonioni’s extended shot length, a steadily smooth camera, use of mirrors, and a wonderful manipulation of the interior space to frame shots keep us constantly engaged.
The initial scene in the stock exchange is gloriously tumultuous and it never lets up. This is the dashing young Piero’s (Alain Delon) domain that he rushes through with lithe business savvy. What this arena becomes is the quintessential Italian marketplace, a hectic theater of business made up of all kinds, involved parties and observers alike. Vittoria (Vitti) is one of those who looks on with mild interest and really throughout the entire film she is a keen observer as much as she is a person of action.
Through the mutual connection of her distraught mother, she and Piero become acquaintances. No more, no less. But we expect there to be more, because how could you waste stars like Vitti and Delon without at least a few romantic interludes? But we are made to wait patiently as they share a little contact, watch the extraction of Piero’s car from its underwater mortuary, and take a long walk.
Again, Antonioni continues with glorious panoramas, a meticulous framing of shots, and exquisite overall composition of mise-en-scene. It makes every image that comes onscreen hold merit and they stay onscreen certainly long enough for you to truly appreciate them. He’s audacious enough not to feel the need to have his figures centered in the frame, and he dances around them, placing them really wherever he pleases, but there’s still something strangely satisfying about it. Doorways, trees, pillars, heads all work nicely.
And the narrative becomes perhaps even more tantalizing than love because it’s the prospect of romance that keeps it going. But it never seems fully realized. It’s frustrating, unfulfilling in a sense, like most of his films. Whether it’s an unsolved mystery or the most perplexing conundrum mankind has ever faced romantic attraction, he always leaves us an open-ended denouement.
There are laughs and moments of immense satisfaction, but they are transient — invariably lasting for only a very brief instant. In fact, this film’s finale is a dour twist that submerges L’Eclisse even lower than we could ever expect. With a title such as “Eclipse,” there’s a potential for foresight, but there also are very few warning signs. Then, all of a sudden, we are privy to a newspaper dotted with headlines like “nuclear arms race” and “fragile peace.” That is all.
It’s in these final moments that L’Eclisse takes a far more haunting turn than Dr. Strangelove and any of its compatriots. It just stops. No explanation. Not even a sign of our protagonists. Again, it’s that maddening ambiguity that comes with waiting out this lull. But the ultimate joke is that there is nothing after the lull. The frame literally gets darker and quieter and then everything ends altogether. There is nothing more. Enveloped in darkness, it simply ceases to be, another enigmatic visual tour de force from one of Italy’s most fascinating titans.