This elliptical approach to narrative is characteristic of the director, and is continued and developed in later films like Red Desert, Blowup, Zabriskie Point and The Passenger. While the 1960s are often depicted as a liberating moment in history, representing a break from the austere times and restrictive traditions of the first half of the twentieth century, Antonioni shows an emptiness and uneasiness beneath the surface of this new world, where people can disappear and identities may change without explanation.
L’Eclisse concerns the breakup of a translator named Vittoria (Monica Vitti), from Riccardo (Francisco Rabal), followed by her tentative relationship with Piero (Alain Delon), a stockbroker. Vittoria and Piero are two young lovers who seem content on the surface: they are young, well off and carefree. However, Antonioni shows these characters to be troubled and the world they live in to be precarious. While Vittoria is sometimes curious about people and places, she is also easily distracted, exhibiting a childlike sense of glee. At one point, she blithely misappropriates African cultural items for her own amusement, with apparently no insight into the offensiveness of her behavior.
Vittoria is far more sensitive about the world than Piero, though. He is a cynical moneymaker, always on the move and willing to use and discard people who are of no immediate use to him. At one point he seems to have a greater attachment to his car than other people. To varying degrees, Vittoria and Piero personify the restless, free-spirited individuals of a new age, with the world at their feet and a future full of possibilities. However, they are hesitant about commitment, seemingly afraid of forming a meaningful connection with one another. They may spend a lot of time together, but they never truly, profoundly bond.
Formally, L’Eclisse is striking, with the Studiocanal Blu-ray showing every detail of the stylish black-and-white cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo. The precise framing and lighting of shots, along with the presence of Antonioni’s muse and partner Vitti, combine to create a visually exquisite landscape that is appealing on the surface, but which conceals an eerie sense of disquiet. Vitti’s collaborations with Antonioni at the time made her the face of 1960s European cinema ennui, playing characters that appear to be happy but who are uncertain about the ever-changing world around them. The famous closing moments of the film encapsulate the feeling of alienation and dislocation, with the characters unwilling or unable to connect. While Antonioni’s films can seem bleak and pessimistic, there is also an element of hope, a sense that his characters, however dissatisfied they may feel, are still out there, wandering and wondering, and continuing to search for answers.
Review by Martyn Bamber
L’Eclisse is out on Blu-ray and DVD from 28 September.