“I feel like I’m in a foreign country” “Funny, that’s how I feel around you”
Vittoria and Piero, L’Eclisse
Antonioni’s “discontent” trilogy ends with the 1962 film “L’eclisse” (Eclipse), which in turn ends with a very artsy but seminal seven minute montage. The scene, the street corner of Rome’s EUR district where the two lovers promised to meet, is shown through the course of the day. The lovers fail to make this rendezvous, and life goes on unperturbed.
Antonioni adds several flourishes, specifically a barrel filled with water. This is where the lovers meet and flirt, and in moments of casual restlessness, throw rubbish into the water. Now, with the passion gone, the barrel leaks water across the pathway and into the gutter. The water ebbs away in the same way the fickle passion in their relationship has disappeared.
These seven minutes abandon the films narrative and flicks between discordant images of modernist architecture, a bus dropping off passengers and a plane leaving a contrail in the sky.
In my initial viewing it is this shot, of the plane leaving a scar against the clear sky, that stuck with me. It reminded me, as is the way my brain functions when I watch films, of To the Wonder, Terrence Malick’s 2013 film. Malick had a similar shot, this time over Oklahoma, and is one of many which echoes Antonioni’s film.
This initial superficial connection gave way to larger thematic similarities. Both films feature people in somewhat fleeting love affairs, and more importantly, both feature the concept of discontent. Not just discontent with each other, but marking the clash between the classic and the modern.
A.O. Scott of the New York Times asks rhetorically, why are people that are so well off so unhappy, when discussing Antonioni’s 1960 film L’Avventura.
And this may seem flippant but it cuts to the core of L’eclisse. In the first scene, Claudia cannot verbalise why she is leaving her lover, only that she must. But it is clear from their actions that modernity, a nebulous but ubiquitous concept, is at play, especially when Claudia opens the window to reveal the gaudy piece of modernist architecture, the mushroom shaped water tower.
This ugly edifice looms over the pair as the stroll through their neighbourhood one last time together. The EUR district of Rome was flooded with modernist architecture, which rubbed against the existing classical structures. Antonioni is showing in his last seven minutes that these structures impermanence and flare is reflected in our protagonists.
In To the Wonder, Neil is traveling through Europe when he meets Marina, who lives in Paris with her daughter.Together they visit Mont Saint-Michel, a commune in Normandy.
Marina agrees to move to Oklahoma, but it is clear that Marina is not comfortable in her new surroundings. This is particular striking when you compare the drab neighbourhood, with row after row of identical housing units, with the sublime beauty of Mont Saint-Michel, and Paris in general. Eventually, Marina leaves and returns to Paris.
Vittoria’s new love affair with Piero, though passionate, is also fraught with the existing issues that plagued Vittoria’s previous relationship: apathy and emptiness. Their end is telegraphed, not too subtly in one of their first meetings, again depicting the jarring intrusion of modernity in the lives of our protagonists:
What Antonioni is saying about love is similar to what Malick is saying, using the cinematic language to identify the modern idea of fleeting love based on superficial longing, can be doomed. And it is particularly interesting that these films would be discussing the same themes 40 years a part.
The New York Times Critics Pick, A.O. Scott
Indiewire’s The Essential: Michelangelo Antonioni
Criterion Collection, Jonathan Rosenbaum A Vigilance of Desire: Antonioni’s E’clisse