Re-released in the UK as part of the NFT’s Antonioni season, L’eclisse is the last of the director’s black and white trilogy, which also includes L’avventura and La Notte. It bears the trademarks of Antonioni’s enigmatic, elliptic and metaphysical works. It’s also funny and extremely fluid.
Antonioni, unlike other Italian neo-realists, was not so much concerned with class struggles and the oppression from the superstructures of power. His films, which often depict the bourgeoisie, focus on the internal struggles and the alienation of man in the modern world. And modern he was in terms of style, often favouring desolate settings like new development buildings in the suburbs of Italian big cities, industrial landscapes and motorways. Antonioni’s Italy is a far cry from the bucolic romanticism evoked by Florence. The only classical beauty here on display is that of Monica Vitti and Alain Delon, both in their absolute prime (the film is from 1962).
Vitti plays Vittoria, a translator whose relationship with Ricardo(Cabal) comes to an end at the beginning of the film. In the next sequence, she is seen at the stock exchange, where her mother is bidding with the help of Piero (Delon). This sequence is a masterfully orchestrated set-piece, the frenzy on the exchange floor interspersed with small asides which Antonioni uses throughout the film as a way to take L’eclisse away from a linear story line. Instead, he creates micro stories and still lives whose significance is constructed from their juxtaposition. His talent for carving out life of the inanimate and random has to be unique in film history.
L’eclisse, like most of his films, is best seen without any attempts to ‘understand’ it in the traditional sense of the word. On a basic level, it could be interpreted as a film about relationships, but he never tries to analyse them or offer any answers because there are no questions and when any questions come up within the film itself, the reply is ‘I don’t know’. Absence is key to Antonioni’s vision, which is purely cinematic, not narrative. It’s the non-event that ‘fills’ his films, contextualised in a world of modernist signs that Antonioni magically rescue from objectivity into pure subjectivity.