L’Eclisse reminds me of another film released that same year, Herk Harvey’s ‘Carnival Of Souls’. In both, we see an alienated woman wandering through a vacant urban landscape. Architecture plays a key role in the films, although perhaps more overtly in L’ Eclisse. The central female characters are unable to form emotional connections with infatuated men that pursue them. Both are ghost stories of a sort, playing out against the backgrounds of their haunted avant garde minimalist soundtracks punctuated by long stretches of silence and ambient sound. There their similarities end.
While the latter feels somewhat dated, the former doesn’t seem to have aged at all. Its actually quite disquieting just how fresh L’Eclisse seems, considering it was made over fifty years ago. It may have been completely out of place in the decade of ‘free love’, but it’s at home in this new millennium.
The discord in the opening credits music –a nineteen-sixties pop song veers abruptly in atonal music- of L’Eclisse gives us a hint of what is to come.
Vittoria (played by Monica Vitti who was also in Antonioni’s Red Desert and L’Avventura) leaves the scene of a love affair that has just ended. Uncomfortable looks are exchanged across the room before she exits the apartment. She wanders the empty streets of a suburb of Rome.
At the Stock Exchange amongst throngs of competing stockbrokers she begins another doomed love affair. She meets a handsome and ambitious young stockbroker (Alain Delon).
The new lovers indulge a series of aimless adventures together. Starting with a meeting in the stockbrokers baroque family townhouse. Then wandering amongst the structures of the virgin nineteen-sixties modernist suburb, parts of it still under construction. The camera returns to one particular building in construction throughout the film. It seems to be moving further towards completion over the One-Hundred and Twenty-Five minutes of its running time.
The two lovers remain emotionally disconnected. They play a series of childlike games. Kissing without feeling. Vittoria shies away from him. At one point she says, “I wish that I didn’t love you. I wish that I loved you more.”
The most profound element of L’Eclisse is it’s sublime black and white cinematography. Empty gestures of the lovers are framed by architectural details, sometimes becoming barriers between them. In a scene they kiss each other through the glass pane of a window, their lips comically flattened on its cold surface. The widescreen frame becomes steadily emptier towards the end of the film. The camera has an increasing tendency to roam the larger exterior landscape and details of buildings, neglecting the actors.
Disturbingly, about fifteen minutes before the end, the lovers abruptly part and disappear altogether without explanation. Over the next quarter of an hour the camera continues to scan the sterile landscape, save the wind blowing through newly planted rows of trees on the perimeters of construction in progress. Occasionally a lone stranger passes through the shot. A woman pushes a pram through the empty street. It’s as if the apocalypse has arrived. Vittoria and her lover are nowhere to be seen. There is no resolution for the viewer as the word ‘FINE’ enters the frame, growing larger to the left of a blinding overexposed streetlight resembling an eclipse.