Restored in fine style by Studiocanal and the Independent Cinema Office, Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1962 Cannes Special Jury Prize winning L’Eclisse returns to cinemas – with a first time appearance on Blu-ray – 53 years after its initial release. The film remains both a visual marvel, as well as an astute and troubling critique of life in a modern world; it’s a vision that feels eerily timeless.
The final entry of a superlative, yet informal, trilogy also comprised of L’Avventura (1960) and La Notte (1961), L’Eclisse finds Antonioni exploring his existential concerns upon an increasingly grand scale. While La Notte focused on the relationship breakdown of Marcello Mastroianni’s self-absorbed writer and Jeanne Moreau’s wealthy, unfulfilled wife, L’Eclisse finds a similarly hopeless pair as they encounter one another in the midst of a stock market crash.
Monica Vitti, returning for the third time in the trilogy (and on routinely brilliant form), leaves her older lover and soon encounters a young stockbroker played by the annoyingly stylish Alain Delon (Plein Soleil, Le Samouraï.) In Antonioni’s trademark style, the two drift into each other’s lives, in a casual, non-committal manner and this is how their relationship remains. It is the petit flirtation that makes the pair so enticing to watch, but their city lives and aspirations limit them from forming a meaningful connection.
Such lack of humane engagement is best displayed in one would-be-tragic sequence, in which a drunk steals Delon’s sports car and comes to an unfortunate end in a river. The characters respond to this ostensibly tragic moment with frivolous discussion of the repair costs for the vehicle. Yet, Antonioni’s approach is never particularly critical of this behaviour; it is as if the director regards this as the natural state of people in this time and sets out to at least enjoy it with his detached (and technically virtuosic) image of cool.
While the film is perhaps less captivating in it’s depiction of the failings of modern relationships as La Notte, L’Eclisse truly endeavours to deal with something bigger: the transience of the human story. Just as the impeccably cool leads forget the ill-fated drunk driver, the film itself eventually disregards the protagonists themselves (and perhaps for the best, given Vitti’s character’s less-than-enlightened colonialist behaviour in an early scene and Delon’s detached moral outlook.) It is this bold disregard for character and plot that leaves us as an audience in a genuine state of crisis and makes the film so powerful.
Contrary to the life goal often attributed to James Dean (and actually spoken by John Derek in Knock on Any Door (1949) – to “live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse” – Antonioni seems to tell us not to put faith in our more superficial desires. What mark can we hope to make on a world of stock markets, fast cars and good looks? L’Eclisse is a fascinating essay on this question and it’s all the more profound due to the master director’s refusal to offer us an answer.