Michelangelo Antonioni, who died recently, wants to overpower you with an atmosphere of disaffection with the world. The only other film of his that Ive seen - LAvventura (1960) - is famous as being the one where one of the seemingly major characters vanishes and is never found. That fact would be a spoiler - but the real spoiler is, from what I can recall, the fact the other characters are so disaffected and alienated from humanity that they could barely give a damn about their lost friend.
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LEclisse is another story about equally disaffected upper-class people. Well, on the surface the only truly disaffected person seems to be Vittoria, played by Monica Vitti. When the movie begins, she and her boyfriend are in the process of breaking up. But this isnt some passionate movie breakup. Much of this sequence, which takes up probably the first 20 minutes, is taken up with silence - those awkward stares, those moments where you dont know what to say and would rather look out the window or fumble with something (Antonioni arguably does this to the point where it becomes pretentious).
And the whole gist of it is that ..... Vittoria just doesnt know why shes breaking up with him. The boyfriend asks her a number of things - when did you fall out of love with me, is there another man, etc. - but she doesnt have an answer as to why she feels the way she does.
The movie meanders on. She goes and sees her mother, whos too greedily busy watching the rise and fall of her stocks at the stock exchange to bond with her own daughter. The activity at the stock exchange is where the only real passion exists for much of the movie. People running back and forth, bumping into each other, getting up close and whispering sweet nothings (er... I mean stock market news) into each others ears, and getting upset, moody or depressed when things go wrong. Its a very physical and emotional environment. Life is all about money - and about getting more money - for these people, and that includes Alain Delons character, Piero, an ambitious young stock broker.
Vittoria and Piero drift together, but what transpires is not exactly a romance. When Piero wants to get closer for a kiss, she almost goes for it but then turns her face away at the precise moment. Yet again, her responses to the serious questions are I dont know. She tells him she wishes she didnt love him, or that she loved him even more. She cant bring herself to feel anything, at least not when it comes to romance. She is emotionally flat.
Naturally, all the major characters in this movie are middle and upper-class folk. I think this is one of those cases where we have a somewhat stereotypical view of what the upper crust are like - theyre comfortable, live in nice apartments, drive good cars, have good jobs, etc., but they take those seductive symbols of capitalism so much for granted that theyve lost touch with basic humanity.
A drunken bum steals Pieros car and drives it off the wharf. The thief dies in the crash, and we even see his body in the car when its pulled out of the water, but all Piero cares about is whether he can fix up the dents and resell it for a good enough price as a down payment for a new model.
Earlier in the film, Vittoria and a friend visit another friends apartment. This friend is from Kenya, and, as a member of the white minority in that country, felt threatened by the black population, calling them monkeys. Vittoria and the other friend are equally as sensitive, when they dress up in African garb and play at being Negroes. Good little colonialists, these folks are.
I seriously doubt all such people are as pathetic as these individuals, but this movie was made in the 1960s when poking artistic holes at such respectable things as capitalism was becoming a trend. This movie is a product of its time, although like any good art you could certainly apply much of what you see to todays world if you so desired.
As a narrative, I didnt really find the movie difficult. Events do seem rather random, but that makes sense considering that Vittoria is drifting through life without much emotional direction. Antonioni does create a convincing feeling of a cold disinterested world - you get the impression that the world as a whole will go on without caring one bit about what happens to any of the characters. As indeed it does; the movie ends with a rather bold (seven or eight minutes long) closing montage that replaces what in a regular movie would have been the expected payoff to the previous scene.
Antonionis films are indeed slow and, in a fashion, boring. But the nature of the film only reflects that of the characters. The characters are indeed dull, but I suspect Antonioni would insist that this is the point. These are dull people living in a dull world where artificial things are valued far more than love and all of those other mushy, embarrassing emotions. Occasionally, there are fleeting, wonderful moments, but after that its back to the same old monotonous grind. That appears to be the message of a movie like LEclisse. It wont be entertainment for most people, but as a cinematic statement, its quite successful.
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