Tomorrow night - Wednesday March 28 - at the Melbourne Cinematheque, one of my favourite films of all time, Antonioni's L'Eclisse is playing. I first saw this film when a friend and I started a nerdy cinephile film club at uni and hired in 16mm prints to show in a small room to an audience that usually consisted of three of us, rarely more than six. It wasn't elite. We desperately wanted more people to come along, but I think we invited social death with the complete lack of hipness of the films we bought in. We hired in L'Eclisse after having our tiny minds blown by L'Avventura in a class on Italian neo-realism (a class that was almost certainly more responsible for damaging my brain with cinematic purism than any other). Nothing quite prepared me for how much this film would get under my skin.
Here is how the cinemateque notes describe this film that has probably attracted more abstract and intellectual synopses than just about any film save for Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad:
Antonioni’s definitive film is an uncompromising & moody exploration of alienation, ennui & the “atomic age” starring Alain Delon & Monica Vitti. An unflinching yet poetic examination of the spaces, places & temporalities of modernity, Antonioni’s actors & characters are ultimately abandoned as the vehicle for presenting his truly contemporary vision (epitomised by the remarkable depopulated final sequence).
Startling on first release even after the bold experimentation of L’avventura & La notte, this film occupies a crucial position in postwar European cinema. With Francisco Rabal. Camera operator Pasquale De Santis, produced by Raymond & Robert Hakim, & music by Giovanni Fusco.
35mm print courtesy of the British Film Institute.
And all of this is in the film. And a lot more. More still as interpreted and extrapolated by the cinematheque notes written by Christopher Sharrett. Yet, for me, despite all of the ways that Antonioni unravels post war narratives and creates a cinema of architectural grandeur and the fallibility of Roman bourgeoisie, what made this film something extraordinary was the drama of silences, of looks and glances, of love promised, unfulfilled, defeated and betrayed by intelligent but inarticulate men and women. Also, like anything with Monica Vitti, there was also the joy of the moments in which her performance reflected on itself; moments in the mirror, mugging at someone, grinning despite herself, revealing the chaotic and occasionally joyful energy underneath. For all it's austerity and it's examination of 'ennui' in the 'atomic age', it is the precision in which love emerges in and around the spaces of the city that will always make this film something truly extraordinary. I love it. I love it. And, of course, both Vitti and Alain Delon are complete fucking hotties and Antonioni is unable to create a frame that is imperfect. So, um... if you're in Melbourne and you didn't run a nerdy film club and get to see it on a scratchy old print in a dusty university backroom, go see the damned film.
(There is a sad coincidence in that the script for L'Eclisse, like L'Avventura before it, La Notte and many other masterful works of writing after it, was scripted by the almost unsurpassable Tonino Guerra who passed away this last week. A eulogy that lists the staggering scope of his work is here.)