L’Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962)

‘Anx emptyy lot.z Shek walks away.n’ [i]

The scene in which Vittoria (Monica Vitti) goes to Verona on a private plane with her friends exemplifies some of the key characteristics of L’Eclisse‘s structure.  This day scene starts quite abruptly after a night scene dominated by silence and darkness.  At the beginning, for ten seconds or so, we see one of the wings from a passenger seat as the plane takes off.  The loud and disturbing sound of the plane’s engines as well as the whiteness of the image is in sharp contrast with the previous scene.  Because there was no mentioning about a trip to Verona beforehand, this transition takes us to an indefinite time and place.  Likewise, Vittoria’s uneasiness suddenly shifts to an indecipherable joy.  The plane ride lasts about three minutes.  Most images are of Verona from the sky and of Vittoria looking out the window.  There is minimal dialogue, what there is refers to the types of clouds in the sky.  Vittoria seems curious and somewhat nervous.  Here and in the following moments, all these mixed emotions Vittoria appears to feel are suggested only through Vitti’s performance and the remote way she is photographed in the frame in relation to other characters and things around her.  After the plane lands, Vittoria and her three friends get off.  Instead of joining them, she chooses to remain in the air field for a while.

This moment adds nothing substantial to our knowledge of the character; it is a pause in the ongoing narrative.  However, observing her actions and the compositions of the frames leads to inferences about her complicated emotional state.  At the start, she seems to be excited about seeing a plane land.  In fact, she hesitates to go back to join her friends and decides to turn back once more to gaze at other planes.  She is the only person in the vast field; she appears small, fragile and helpless.  Her shifting facial expressions reflect her isolated and unprotected existence.  Similar to many instances in which we see her during the film, the final look she assumes in the field suggests wariness.  This is almost a metaphysical look, invoking a warning against an imminent catastrophe.  Whether it is about the future or her own being, Vittoria knows more than us, the audience, but she will not share this knowledge with anyone.

The rest of the scene continues with Vittoria’s unhurried wanderings as she walks towards a café nearby, calmly observing the things around her.  When she reaches the café, she does not go in; she stops at the doorway and looks inside.  At this moment, the camera also comes inside, permitting us to watch Vittoria with the other characters in the café.  Without any intention of going in, Vittoria continues to observe the people and the space silently and warily, slightly smiling only in return to a stranger’s ‘hello’ from inside.

L_Eclisse_02

Finally she chooses to sit outside, as the camera frames her behind the café’s multi-framed window.  The scene ends as abruptly as it begins: her friend approaches and tells her that the others are coming.  Vittoria replies: ‘It’s so nice here’.

The plane trip has neither causal connection to previous events in the narrative nor any effect on the following ones.  Characters, locations, actions and encounters all seem insignificant in the overall narrative.  This is a scene that directs attention only to Vittoria; instead of driving the narrative forward, it arrests the narrative for a while and lets us observe the diversities of the emotional state that she is in.  The curiosity and joy she seemingly feels in the plane cease to exist when she gets off and are exchanged with the wary look she carries throughout most of the film.  This look is multi-faceted; in it there are traces of her fragility and hesitancy as well as her playfulness and hope.  However, in a fleeting moment the same look can evoke uncertainty and fear.

L'Eclisse_02

Similar to the film’s episodic editing with ellipses, Monica Vitti’s performance also disregards narrative continuity and creates gaps, manifesting absence.  She repeatedly shifts to a different mood; just as we think we understand the state that she is in, through her reaction to an object, a person or scenery, she will immediately leave that state.

[i] Eco (1993: 145).  This is the plot pattern for ‘an Antonioni film’, which I believe suits L’Eclisse the best.  In his 1963 essay ‘Make Your Own Movie’, Umberto Eco envisions a future in 1993 where means of filmmaking are easily accessible to anyone.  ‘Plot patterns’ of famous directors are revealed in bestselling books and people can easily shoot their own ‘director’s film’ only by changing the variants in these patterns. Eco, Umberto (1993) Misreadings. San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt, Inc, p. 145.

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