The cinema is often home to fantastic events and extraordinary tales. And though the conflicts in such movies are able to move audiences emotionally, there is an unavoidable disconnect between the content and the real world. For many viewers, L’Eclisse is a film that avoids that disconnect. Antonioni’s classic abides by what is feasible in the real world and as a result, allows audiences to absorb and empathize with the subject matter. In addition, the moral struggles presented in L’Eclisse are simple, realistic, and vague so that every viewer can connect with the film on some level. In L’Eclisse, the beautiful and well-to-do Vittoria is bored, surrounded by a culture of materialism, and lonely. And every aspect of the film, from the narrative to the mise-en-scene, emphasizes those themes.
L’Eclisse takes place in Italy, 1961. The post World War II era was a prosperous time for Italy politically, socially, and economically. Freed from Fascism, Italians saw a great rise in creative expression and an industrial revolution in the 50s and early 60s. The period is characterized by a luxurious and laid back lifestyle full of fine foods, drink, parties, and indulgence. The casual way Piero buys a new BMW, the routine delivery of an airplane to Rome, the well decorated apartments, and the scores of people filling seats at alfresco cafes, are all indicative of the time period in Italian history. Since then, occasional restaurant visits, somewhat frugal spending, and chunks of leisure time have remained a part of the middle class lifestyle. But whether L’Eclisse accurately represents 1961 Italy isn’t as significant as the themes that have preserved their potency through time.
Vittoria experiences most of the moral struggle in L’Eclisse. The world she inhabits is entirely materialistic. And this money-focused culture of materialism permeates every aspect of life. It is evident that each character except Vittoria, defines themselves by their possessions. Vittoria’s mother, someone who experienced poverty but now lives “la dolce vitam,” is also obsessed with money. She and the other frequents of the stock market are committed to the luxurious, laid back lifestyle. During the financial downturn, the more afflicted are deeply distraught when their status and money are somewhat stripped from them.
Also of note is that the clothes worn by the characters in L’Eclisse are always chic and carefully considered. The men are always looking dapper in pressed suits and the ladies are consistently elegant, covered in expensive jewelery, the latest trendy outfit, and stylish hair.
But though the materialistic culture is visible throughout the films entirety, it is the indoor and stock market scenes where it is most obvious. Whenever the film takes us inside an apartment, the film is suddenly filled with eye-catching items and objects. Antonoini carefully selected and positioned these objects in the frame, making them a focal point the viewer can’t help but examine. Each persons house is a performance, a persona-defining force to these materialistic people. They value their possessions dearly and allow these objects to define who they are. When Vittoria and Anita head over to Marta’s house, it is completely filled with objects from her home in Kenya. Marta clearly values her heritage a great deal and takes pride in it, but cannot express it without filling her house with an absurd amount of keepsakes and items for others to observe. The materialistic culture of L’Eclisse is again visible in the stock market, when Piero comes in and shows Ercoli his new electric fan. Ercoli says it’s cute but fears what people would think if someone saw him with one. It’s obviously extremely hot inside that building, and Ercoli turns down the fan simply because he’s afraid of what it might say about him. But while this demonstrates Ercoli’s materialism, his anxiety also demonstrates how the entire culture would use that object to define Ercoli’s nature.
The mise-en-scene in L’Eclisse‘s emphasizes the philosophically shallow luxurious Italian lifestyle of the 1960s, and Vittorias dissonant attitude towards it. Antonoini turns ordinarily beautiful, sunny landscapes into wasteland-like imagery. He leaves the camera rolling on extremely wide shots of sparsely populated scenery, making them strangely depressing. The view from Riccardo’s window, the corner with the water barrel, the open airfield, the patio that the stray dogs call home, the garden with the sprinkler, and the cafe with the piano playing; all these should be pleasant images, but Antonoini makes them desolate and undesirable. This carefully designed mise-en-scene makes Vittoria’s moral struggle against materialism much more powerful.
One of the major moral struggles that Vittoria experiences throughout L’Eclisse is that she feels alone amongst the Italian money-hungry culture of materialism. Though she attempts to live in that world, the film makes it obvious that she is bored, lonely, and uninterested in that lifestyle. Antonoini makes it very clear that Vittoria is not like her comrades. When compared with those around her, Vittoria is happy and sad for different reasons, takes interested and uninterested in different things.
Vittoria’s contrastive way of thinking is evident when Piero’s car is found in the river. When Vittoria is told that the silly drunkard who stole Piero’s convertible is dead, her expression shows that she is very seriously moved. On the other hand, Piero discusses how he could make some of his money back by fixing up the dents and selling the wrecked car. Vittoria is quite startled by Piero’s insensitivity but ultimately accepts it. Despite how she feels, there is no real way for Vittoria to combat this moral struggle. How can one person fight a culture? Instead she lives her life alienated, lonely, and dreaming of a life that isn’t defined by appearances and possessions.
For instance, Vittoria takes great interest in paintings and pictures where ever she goes. The degree of Vittoria’s interest is embellished by Antonoini’s stylistic decision to leave the camera focused on these wall hangings that are often centered in the frame. But it is never the painting itself that Vittoria cares about, as that would be materialistic. Instead, it is the subject matter. All the framed images Vittoria focuses on are landscape images, and she is gazes deeply into them enraptured by idea of escaping to a distant land on a thrilling adventure. She asks Marta about the photographs of the lake and then walks around the room alone gazing into the rest of the photos while Marta talks with Anita. Similarly, when Vittoria, Anita, and Anita’s husband fly to Rome, Vittoria gazes out into the open spaces, imagining what it would be like to live a life different form her own materialistic existence. Though it is never explicitly said, the viewer can decipher Vittoria’s thoughts simply Antonoini’s style: what he places the camera on and how long he leaves it there. And from that alone it is clear that Vittoria yearns to leave the materialistic lifestyle behind.
The mise-en-scene works to heighten Vittoria’s feelings of lonliness. There are many points in L’Eclisse where the framing of the shot separates Vittoria from other people. For example, when she is talking with Riccardo at the beginning of the film, a lengthy shot is split vertically by a wall. Riccardo and Vittoria find themselves on either side of it, visually representing Vittoria’s disconnect. Similarly, at the stock market a large pillar separates Vittoria from the crowds. In addition, on more than one occasion she remains in her dark room, secluded from the undesirable world with sharp contrast.
Throughout L’Eclisse Vittoria is at her happiest when she briefly escapes the confines and monotony of her life. Vittoria seldom laughs in this film but when she does it is always because she has temporarily left behind the materialistic world she is so bored by. When she dresses up in blackface and dances drunkenly, she is momentarily not herself and we see a different side to the melancholy belle. Soon afterwards in a somewhat etherial scene, she goes off chasing the stray dogs into the night and laughs at the strangeness of it all. She pauses to observe the rhythmic music of flagpoles and again happily loses track of where she is. Vittoria often feels happy with Piero despite him being engrained into that lifestyle. But after they first make love and are laying in a grassy field, she says that being with him makes her feel like shes in a foreign country. Once again her elation is a result of feeling distant from her dull and fatigued life.
Aside from the emotionless split from Riccardo, Vittoria’s summer affair with Piero is the most direct manifestation of her moral struggle. He, a up and coming stock broker, represents the materialist world she is so bored by. Yet, she slowly and reluctantly allows him to charm her and they have a brief and intimate affair. But their different attitudes and desires ensure that the relationship will never work. And at the end of L’Eclisse, it is more than likely that the film has come full circle, and Vittoria has split with Piero, just as she did Riccardo. After all, they embody the lifestyle she feels distant form and yearns to leave behind. Vittoria’s failed relationships epitomize her inablility to make connections in such a world.
The conclusion of L’Eclisse is perhaps its most compelling segment. The last seven minutes are incredibly vague, leaving the film open to interpretation. The audience is left wondering what happened to Vittoria and Piero. Whether her moral struggle came to an end is ultimately left up to the audience. However, it seems more likely that Vittoria and Piero never met after that day, as their relationship was doomed to fail from the outset.
L’Eclisse is purposefully slow and vague the entire way through. The realistic setting and Vittoria’s moral struggle allow audiences to establish an intense connection to the film’s conflict. Vittoria never states exactly what plagues her, and while Antonoini’s mise-en-scene offers suggestions, the final interpretation is up to the viewer. Of course this is more than evident form the clonclusion, but even from the cinematography throughout the film. Antonoini frames shots that are fragmented and incomplete, often oddly cutting off portions of characters. He uses oblique angles and vertical lines to make her discomfort even more apparent. Finally, Antonoini forces the viewer to actively consider the moral struggle simply by delaying his cuts. This grants the audience time to reflect during long and often mundane shots. The film is meant to be pondered by the audience who must then fill in the gaps: the words Vittoria never says, the portion of the shot that remains off-camera, and the ambiguous ending.
Though the moral struggle Vittoria experiences is vague, the audience can tell that she is generally bored and lonely in a materialistic world. She finds it impossible to establish real emotional connections with the people around her. Like everyone else, I too get tired of small talk, career planning, and the general monotony of life. And while I don’t suffer from the same level of inescapable ‘ennui’ that Vittoria does, I too yearn to encounter a unfamiliar land where by chance I might connect with people in an out of the ordinary and remarkable manner. Fortunately, my service learning placement at CAW allows me to do just that. And every Saturday I spend in Harlem, I connect with people who live that are distinctly different from my own. Unfortunately, for the duration of the film, Vittoria was unable to find a means of solving her own moral struggle. And as a result, all of us that can empathize with Vittoria, would classify L’Eclisse as a great tragedy.