Saturday, April 2, 2011

"L'Eclisse" and Michelangelo Antonioni

During my class last quarter, I was introduced to a director and a film that profoundly moved me.  It's taken me until now to write about it as I needed time to digest what I had seen.  Michelangelo Antonioni was a director who worked mainly during the 1950's and 60's, at the same time as the legendary and much more well known, Ingmar Bergman.  They actually died within hours of each other.  Antonioni was born in 1912 in Italy, living through both great wars.  Those experiences had a tremendous impact upon his view of the world which shows up in his stark, slow and colorless films.  Now, don't be put off by that last description.  The film that we watched, "L'Eclisse," which means The Eclipse, is a slow, stark and colorless film, however, it is also filled with images of human interaction and the beauties and frustrations of life that burn into your mind and leave you almost breathless.  I can honestly say I have never seen another film like "L'Eclisse" and I am having great difficulty trying to describe it.  It is the story of a woman, Vittoria (Italian actress Monica Vitti), who breaks off one relationship and begins another but the materialistic nature of her second lover dooms their relationship.  However, what really tells the story is the cinematography which uses the landscape, buildings and things that litter the space around those people to convey a sense of hopelessness and futility.  Monica Vitti as Vittoria is transcendent with her beauty and uses it to show both joy and a great yearning within her that is not being fulfilled.  Then there are the last 7 minutes of the film.  They are unlike anything I've ever seen.  Vittoria and her lover make a date to meet at their usual place (a corner of a street in front of a building that is under construction.)  There is a barrel of water on that corner where Vittoria has dropped a scrap of paper the last time she was there.  As the camera pans that corner and we, the audience, wait for the two lovers to arrive, we see the lamppost slowly come on, the wind blowing trash down the street, a nanny pushing a stroller, and the water starting to slowly seep out of that barrel.  With each pass of the corner and the accompanying buildings and things, we realize, with a painful and awful slowness, that they are not coming.  There will not be a happy ending for Vittoria.  We are never told the exact reasons why they don't come but they are evident.  Neither of them is fulfilled by this relationship and the world around them.  They feel a sense of being lost in a material world that is meaningless.  All of this sounds terribly sad, I know, but Antonioni was presenting his view of the world as colored by his experience in Europe during the War.  For him, the world was a nebulous and unsafe place that can be destroyed at any moment.  I hope you will take a chance and view this film.  It will be a cinematic experience unlike any you've had.  

**Other Antonioni films I highly recommend that are slightly more accessible are:  "Red Desert" starring Richard Harris and Monica Vitti, and "Blow Up" starring Vanessa Redgrave, David Hemmings and Sarah Miles.

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