L'eclisse: Criterion Collection Review
Rome. Morning. We begin in a room. It's been a long night in the lives of Vittoria (Monica Vitti) and Riccardo (Francisco Rabal), but their relationship is now over. Later that morning, Vittoria, who works as a translator, meets her mother (Lilla Brignone) at the Stock Exchange on a day when shares crash. There, Vittoria meets Piero (Alain Delon), a young stockbroker, and they gradually move into a relationship.
L'eclisse followed L'avventura and La notte, three films in as many years, and the third in a row with Monica Vitti, who had become his partner in life as well as his muse. L'eclisse, Antonioni's last film in black and white, does feel like a culmination of the themes and methods of this loose trilogy. After the ending – one of the great endings in modern cinema – it's hard to see ow much further he could take them. His next film, Red Desert, his first in colour, still with Vitti in the lead role, seems like a st strike in a new direction.
As before, plot in the usual sense plays little part in Antonioni's work. What is more important are the people he observed: viewed from outside, not fully knowable. And abiding concerns come to the fore: how much of a gulf there can be between people, between men and women especially, and the alienation of modern life. Antonioni has always been a great director of architecture: how buildings – especially modern ones – can supplant human beings. In this film, Rome's mushroom-shaped EUR building features notably. At the film's end, places have supplanted the leading characters, even the story.
This ending, seven minutes long, is a series of shots of locations: streets, buildings, things. Piero and Vittoria do not appear, and there are only a few passersby. This extraordinary, quite disturbing sequence, underscored by Giovanni Fusco's score, takes L'eclisse into an almost abstract realm. It proved so unnerving that it was removed from some cinema prints. Antonioni has some fine endings his work - the exploding house in Zabriskie Point and the long tracking shot that ends The Passenger are others – but this is up there with the best of them.
By now, Antonioni's fame was such that major stars of European cinema would appear in his films. Opposite Vitti as the materialistic Piero is Alain Delon, then an absurdly handsome leading man who had come to prominence in films such as Plein soleil and Rocco and His Brothers, both in 1960. He gives a very expressive performance, conveying a lot through his face and body language. As does Vitti: it's hard to choose between this and her Giuliana in Red Desert as her finest role for Antonioni. Gianni di Venanzo's canerawork does all it needs to, and the use of sound adds considerably to the film. Note the way the opening credits are backed by a dance tune that segues into something more modern and more anxious.
L'eclisse, released in 2005, is number 278 in the Criterion Collection. It comprises two dual-layered NTSC discs and is encoded for all regions. (It is also available in Region 2 from Optimum, either singly or as part of their Alain Delon Collection box set, but I haven't seen that edition.)
The film is transferred to DVD in a ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. It's a first-rate transfer: sharp and with the blacks, greys and whites looking exactly as they should. L'eclisse is a beautiful-looking film and Criterion have provided a DVD that is up to the task of reproducing it.
The soundtrack is the original mono, and is clear and well-balanced. English subtitles are removable, if your Italian is good enough.
Richard Peña, program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York, provides a thorough commentary, elucidating Antonioni's distinctive use of space, and adds useful information about Italian culture and contemporary history and politics, as well as describing the circumstances of the film's production. The result is a little dry, but a very worthwhile supplement to what is not the easiest of films for a first-time viewer.
Disc Two begins with Michelangelo Antonioni: The Eye That Changed Cinema (55:48). This 2001 documentary for Italian television by Sandro Lai is an extensive career overview, with extracts and interviews with the director. It begins with the reception at Cannes for L'avventura, then goes back to the beginning of his career as a documentarian, and takes us past his troubled Chinese documentary project to his return to feature filmmaking in 1980. In between, interview footage gives us a clear idea of Antonioni's concerns and methods. The Eye That Changed Cinema is presented in 4:3 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround soundtrack.
The other item on Disc Two is Elements of Landscape (21:59), which was recorded specifically for this DVD release in 2004. Adriano Aprå, a film critic, and Carlo di Carlo, a friend and collaborator of Antonioni's, discuss his use of landscape in L'eclisse. This is also presented in 4:3. Both extras are in Italian with optional English subtitles.
In addition, Criterion have provided a 32-page booklet, which contains the following essays: “A Vigilance of Desire: Antonioni's L'eclisse” by Jonathan Rosenbaum, “Antonioni and Vitti” by Gilberto Perez, and “Making a Film is My Way of Life” by the man himself, an excerpt from an article in a 1962 issue of Film Culture.
L'eclisse is one of Antonioni's greatest films – whether it's the greatest is up to you, as there are other contenders – and Criterion's DVD does a fine job of presenting and contextualising it.