L’Eclisse

Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy, 1962

How much do I love this film? Let me count the ways…

It’s so stylish, it’s emotionally and intellectually complex (but all under the surface), it has moments of bustle and moments of quiet contemplation, the framing of the shots is unusual and original, it made me dream of living in southern Europe.

Watching it this time, I noticed the women in the film much more, so here is a feminist reading of L’Eclisse:

Our protagonist, Vittoria (Monica Vitti), is trying to be independent in a world dominated by masculine control (ugh, the 60s for women? It’s no wonder 1970s feminism happened). She is multilingual, lives on her own and works as a translator. The film starts with her breaking up with her long-term boyfriend; we understand marriage was on the cards, but she wasn’t happy so she’s chosen her own path instead of what was expected (her mother is a touch disappointed with this headstrong daughter!). In her quiet way, she’s ballsy – that beeping impatient taxi driver gets a proper Italian gestural response. But she’s unsure too, and her confidence in herself is easily dented when a man disagrees (like when Piero thinks the radio is old-fashioned, she looks crestfallen).

Antonioni shows how she is constantly the object of male attention when in public, like at the cafe in the airfield (“Well, hel-lo!”). She likes being admired, but equally she’d rather hide away and is most relaxed in the company of her female friends. Alain Delon’s Piero wants this beautiful creature, even though she’s not enormously interested (tired of men, tired of love, on the rebound remember) but when the conquest is complete he moves on. She’s just another notch on his bedpost and she knows it. What is going on in her head, though? She can look bored, sad, shy, determined, joyous…

There are signs the her mother is a woman of substance, an independent woman herself, a widow who plays and loses on the stockmarket. And there is her neighbour and friend who introduces her to another neighbour, an English woman who was born and lived in Africa. Our women are interesting, clever, multilayered and multicultural.

It makes me wonder if, like Tennesssee Williams, Antonioni grew up with women, making his view non-stereotypical and intimate, and his characters complex.

And then all the characters we’ve got to know leave our story but the world they inhabited carries on. I love the ending! No answers, no conclusion, we were just having a short glimpse into these people’s lives, but now we can get on with our own. The city will still be there, time passes, life continues. Ah, wonderful.

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