There are some films that are defined, or at least deeply coloured by the power and poetry of their final scenes. Christian Petzold’s Phoenix (2014) is a fine film in its own right, but is elevated by the emotional upper-cut of its conclusion. So too Pablo Larrain’s Post Mortem (2010) conjures great effect from its chilling last shot. It may not be a given that Michelangelo Antonioni is emphasising what has come before in the incredible closing minutes of L’Eclisse (1962), but a case can be made that in it he unsettlingly distils his entire trilogy of alienation – begun in L’Avventura (1960) and continued in La Notte (1961) – into one poetic and wordless sequence.
Antonioni completely removes the characters whose effortlessly stylish malaise has been the focus of the previous two hours and seems to hand the film over to an evocation of their spiritual absence. The architecture that has vied for screen time throughout the trilogy finally triumphs and the audience’s own expectations serve as fuel for the all-consuming disaffection. “I wish I didn’t love you. Or that I loved you much more,” Monica Vitti’s Vittoria declares at one stage to Alain Delon’s suave bachelor, Piero. For much of the film they restlessly circle one another, he apparently pursuing her as a perfect accessory to his monied success as a stock broker; her paralysed – and tongue-tied – by indecision and mistrust. More obviously political than its predecessors, L’Eclisse angles a withering eye at the atavism of the stock exchange and while Piero’s charismatic shark is never vilified, his preferred hunting ground most certainly is.
Elsewhere, European imperialism is skewered when Vittoria dons ‘blackface’ make-up to dance like a cartoon woman of some nondescript ‘African’ tribe – while a friend recounts feeling like a pressured minority during her time in Kenya. Previously in the trilogy Antonioni’s characters are enveloped in an almost undefinable existential torpor, here their ennui seems to stem from verifiable – or at least attributable – real-world issues such as politics and the economy. Sometimes they are perhaps a little obvious, but they also ground Vittoria’s anxieties. Perhaps central of these is her character as a representation of the stranglehold that patriarchal Italian society had on its female populace.
Antonioni was always a filmmaker who displayed an empathy with his female protagonists and Vitti acts as his cypher in L’Eclisse. The searching camera of Gianni Di Venanzo’s iconic cinematography is equally as uneasy as Vittoria; the lens lingers on various objects as if attempting reconcile their importance and the fading relevance of the people using and observing them. And so the action shifts to those final eight minutes, described by Amos Vogel as “monstrous”. They prove the perfect culmination to the triptych, balancing a thematic implosion and masterful demonstration of cinematic craft from one of the medium’s most respected voices.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson