Wednesday 15 October 2008

L'Eclisse (1962)

Between 1960 and 1962 Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni wrote and directed three films that have become known as his Incommunicability Trilogy. This is the last of them, the first being L'Avventura. They're not related in any way other than theme, but they do have that in common and they would seem to be summed up by one early scene here, which has Francisco Rabal sitting immobile in a chair while Monica Vitti, who was planning to leave, gets all flustered and doesn't, at least not initially. He's Riccardo, she's Vittoria and they used to be in love. Why they aren't any more, or at least why she isn't any more, doesn't seem to be definable. There's nobody else. Whatever questions he asks she can only answer with 'I don't know' and she appears to be being truthful.

So she leaves Riccardo to go talk to her mother, with whom she can't communicate either. Her mother is a stock market addict, spending all her time on the bourse floor to direct her trading, and it's there that Vittoria meets Piero, played by Alain Delon. He's a trader and is as materialistic and communicative as you' expect for a profession like that, but his communication is all materialistic. When Vittoria expects sensitive words, he tells her he's got a new car. When she asks about what he did last night, he tells her how much the meal cost. Then again, when he asks her questions, she either can't or won't answer at all.

There's a definite inability to communicate here: the characters seem to function on entirely different levels. Everyone wants to connect but they seem to have no way of doing so and on the odd occasions they do, it seems insubstantial and transitory. There's no depth anywhere. Piero can't stop moving and his world is filled with the modern, especially telephones, the tools of his trade, which call to him like lovers. One memorable scene has the bourse holding a minute's silence in memory of a dead colleague, but of course silence in a place like this is only for people. The phones keep calling. Vittoria has something of the primitive, as evidence in an attempt at native dance she does in the apartment of a friend born in Kenya.

Like the leads, their surroundings are beautiful but empty: we see a lot of buildings, streets, fields, but very few people in them. Often the only things alive in these vistas as the trees, which flutter as if to emphasise that they're still here. The only place that contains a throng is the bourse, where the only spirit is the spirit of materialism. It's all beautifully and impeccably done, but like with In Between Days, is that enough? That depends on the viewer. Like that film, the story here is also all within the spaces between what is said and done. Many scenes are entirely silent but they speak volumes. The most important scene is the one that doesn't happen.

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