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L'Eclisse: The Criterion Collection

The third movie in Michelangelo Antonioni's breakthrough existential trilogy — which began with L'Avventura in 1960 and continued with La Notte the following year — L'Eclisse (1962) again stars Monica Vitti as another young woman aimlessly searching for a fulfilling sense of self in a modern world that vexes her. After breaking off a stale engagement with her long-time lover (Francisco Rabal), Vittoria (Vitti) fends off his last, listless attempts to salvage their relationship, only to find herself on the verge of a new, reluctant romance with a raffish young stock trader (Alain Delon). Insofar as any Antonioni movie has an external narrative, that's about it for L'Eclisse, which is typically episodic (Vittoria spends an evening with friends; performs a mock African dance; chases a loose pack of dogs; visits her mother in the city; flies to Verona for a day; begins a furtive courtship with Delon's shallow Piero). But also typical of Antonioni's stark, quiet (easily parodied) and superficially remote style, L'Eclisse is busy with Vittoria's internal struggle to find her own understanding of who she is and what she is meant to be. Vitti marvelously conveys Vittoria's sense of unease, with her wide, beautiful face momentarily flickering with the possibilities of life but pained by the charade of rapid change morphing into dull familiarity. She perfectly captures the sense that Vittoria is only innately aware of her crisis of disassociation, yet to devise even a partial understanding of it. As those around her gamely escape from introspection by occupying themselves with fleeting materialism, Vittoria has nothing but to ponder: She is as unfinished as the half-constructed Rome suburb where she lives, unable to articulate or actualize her transformation into anything else. She experiences brief moments of freedom and joy in the fantasy of life in faraway Kenya, or in the exhilarating possibilities of transport from a busy airfield, and in her sexual attraction to Piero. However, despite those moments of playful abandon, Vittoria feels a dread of inevitability about the affair, which will no doubt lead her to yet another uncomfortably numb breakup down the line. Like L'Aventurra (which was booed at Cannes for its deliberately paced and obscure approach to narrative [not unusual for Cannes, this didn't stop the film from winning a major award that year, the Jury Prize]), L'Eclisse (also a Cannes Special Jury Prize winner) is itself an existential tone poem using Antonioni's own peculiar film language, and probably not for all tastes. But the intimacy with which the director connects with his muse Vitti to depict her character's inexplicable state of directionlessness can be quite stirring. The final sequence in L'Eclisse is memorable both for its bold technique and its surprising emotional resonance. Criterion presents L'Eclisse in a two-disc set, with the first disc presenting the feature in a gorgeously restored anamorphic black-and-white transfer (1.85:1) with DD 1.0 audio (in Italian with optional English subtitles). Film scholar Richard Peña offers some fairly interesting explication on a commentary track. Disc Two offers two featurettes (both in Italian with English subtitles): the hour-long "Michelangelo Antonioni: The Eye That Changed Cinema," which explores the director's life and career; and "The Sickness of Eros," featuring interviews with Italian film critic Adriano Apra and longtime Antonioni friend Carlo di Carlo about L'Eclisse. The liner notes includes essays by film critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Gilberto Perez. Dual-DVD keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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