Lost in the Movies: The Favorites - L'Eclisse (#53)

The Favorites - L'Eclisse (#53)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. L'Eclisse (1962/Italy/dir. Michelangelo Antonioni) appeared at #53 on my original list.

What it is • The story? Vittoria (Monica Vitti) breaks up with her boyfriend, and begins a romance with a young stockbroker (Alain Delon) in chic early sixties Rome. But is that really what the film "is"? At the very least, it's a stunningly photographed film, with some of the most gorgeous images in cinema history. But there are many films with jaw-dropping cinematography which nonetheless feel vapid - hell, a lot of TV commercials are quite nice to look at. L'Eclisse is something more. Like the greatest examples of still photography, L'Eclisse uses inventive compositions to capture our eye, stirring our senses on a fundamental level we weren't even aware of. Objects loom unusually in the frame, conjuring up uncanny sensations, while the actors' expressions convey deep sensitivity yet maintain an intriguing reserve. Even more importantly, this is cinema, not still photography. Antonioni is a master of subtle, arresting movement - of both camera and subject: sometimes only the actor's faces flicker or flinch but that's enough to thrill us. I can't find the exact quote, but Antonioni once claimed to be driving along a road flanked by a scenic landscape on the one side and rundown, abandoned industry on the other. He recalled shifting his gaze over to the empty factories, despite the natural beauty out one window. Why? Because "people had been there." However alienating/alienated his characters, however much he privileges the blocking and movement of performers over their dialogue, however dominated by empty space his frames can be, Antonioni's pictorialism is ultimately defined by a deep humanism.

Why I like it •
Of Antonioni's loose "alienation" trilogy from the early sixties, L'Eclisse is my clear favorite, though I like L'Avventura a lot too (I think I'm captivated by the conceit as much as the execution); I'm not so passionate about La Notte. Why? I suppose L'Avventura - in which a woman disappears without explanation on a deserted island, and her friends spend the rest of the film fruitlessly trying to figure out what happened to her - is defined by an absorbing stasis: the characters aren't going anywhere, they know it, and we're meant to savor the sweet limbo. As I recall (I've seen it the fewest times of the three) La Notte - in which a couple bicker and drift apart toward and away from each other at a party - is defined by a kind of grinding ennui, which can be exhausting. L'Eclisse, however, is defined by an open, "anything-can-happen" quality; it begins with the breakup and proceeds from there with a curiosity and anticipation that is contagious. Quite simply, L'Avventura has a sense of the past about it, La Notte conveys the anxiety of the present, and L'Eclisse, several years into the liberating sixties, captures the possibilities of the future. So that may be the big reason this film pushes my buttons, but it's also a matter of a completely absorbing flow of carefully-crafted images, gestures, and sounds. Cinematography is one thing, but L'Eclisse is marvelously directed. If I ever want to remind myself how to make a scene move even when nothing seems to be happening, this is the film I will play.

How you can see it • L'Eclisse streams on Hulu and is available on blu-ray/DVD from Netflix and via digital rental or purchase from Amazon. Some shots from the film are integrated into an impressionistic video essay I created, Idylls of the King. A clip is featured at 6:11 in "Sixties Rising", a chapter in my "32 Days of Movies" video clip series.

What do you think? • Do you see this as part of a trilogy with L'Avventura and La Notte - or do you connect it more with Red Desert? Do you find the characters dramatically or emotionally engaging? If you could hang one shot from the film on your wall, what would it be?

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Michael O'Sullivan said...

One of my favourite Antonioni's - Vitti and Delon both perfect here. It looks marvellous on blu-ray now.

Joel Bocko said...

I look forward to seeing it in that format - even on standard-def it was breathtaking.

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