Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Review: L'Eclisse (1962)

Enigmatic, world-weary, capricious and bewitching, such sort of women that preoccupy L’Avventura and La Note is also the focal point of L’Eclisse. All of them were played by Monica Vitti, with such confidence and aptitude that one cannot help wondering if Antonioni had them all tailor-made, or simply that Vitti was born for these roles. Claudia, Valentina, Vittoria and Vitti all seem the same person with only slight variations.

After all, maybe one shouldn’t bother too much with the distinction of life and art when both are so confusedly intermingled in Italian cinema. Especially with Antonioni’s films, the quotidian is often made ambiguous by virtue of the auteur-director’s invariable reliance on the more instinctive mode of storytelling. Antonioni once said: “I never discuss the plots of my films. I never release a synopsis before I begin shooting…I depart from the script constantly. I may film scenes I have no intention filming. Things suggest themselves on locations, and we improvise.”

Yet L’Eclisse does not seem as if it were made on a whim. Any momentary bizarreness is to be accounted for as the film unfolds. Even if one is still left scratching one’s head over some particular sequences, the unaccountable vagueness of which is to be atoned for by the film’s rhythmic consistency. Indeed, the film is akin to a symphony, where one hears the interweavings of sound and silence, loud and quiet, accelerando and ritardando. Never was the presence of time and space so vivid and forbidding that they seem to become the dictators of the characters’ course of lives. After a tryst with Alain Delon’s character, Piero, where both make empty promises of continuing their love affair whilst barely masking their lingering fear that the finality is nigh, Vittoria breezes out of the building and loiters on a populated boulevard. As if summoned by something she cranes her neck and is briefly transfixed by a tree, the leaves of which waver as the wind sweeps by. This simple image seems to bestow on her an epiphany that, for once in the film, I see Vittoria finally awakes from the lasting ennui that a prior failed relationship has induced.

As Antonioni so deftly manifests in L’Eclisse, happiness, along with other sensations and notions, can be relative. The brief moment of silence in the midst of a cacophonous stock exchange seems relatively prolonged, its quietude relatively loud and restive, as everyone waits nervously and impatiently for its break-up. Life is felt keenly through relativism, disrupted only by a veer towards extremism, which in turn breeds paradoxes. Paradox is the scourge of all relationships. Recounting her past relationship, Vittoria tells Piero that as long as both lovers are in love they understand each other, because there is nothing to understand. Another memorable quote from the heroine as she tactfully puts off the hero’s overtures by saying: “Why do we ask so many questions? Two people shouldn't know each other too well if they want to fall in love. But, then, maybe they shouldn't fall in love at all.

The elliptical ending of L’Eclisse signals a return to the leitmotif that encapsulates Antonioni’s works- the mystery that underlies the mundane. The understatedly mesmerising score, composed by Giovanni Fusco, and the juxtaposition of wide-angle and close-up shots exquisitely handled by Gianni Di Venanzo- all aid and sometimes exacerbate the mysteriousness that envelopes and underpins the film. The supporting cast: Francisco Rabal as Vittoria’s jilted lover Riccardo, and Lilla Brignone as Vittoria’s money-grubbing mother, though cede much of their share of screen time to the two main characters, counterbalance the latter’s elusiveness with some degrees of vigour and intensity, which add an interesting edge to the film. L’Eclisse is the final film of Antonioni’s that was shot in monochrome.

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