“Why do we ask so many questions? Two people shouldn’t know each other too well if they want to fall in love.”
I don’t know why I started watching ’60s European films, and now I’m hooked by it. Yeah, that’s how most of my admirations start. I started the series of films by watching the enigmatic Le samouraï, followed by the equally enticing Vivre sa vie, the ethereal Les quatre cents coups, and the erotically-charged Belle de jour. Halfway through the marathon, I’d thought I’ll write something about Le samouraï, and how the film’s notions about death and the absurdity of life help drive the plot into something intriguing and adequate with meaning. But then I encountered the brilliant L’eclisse and I thought I’ll write about that instead.
L’eclisse is the last part of a film trilogy by Michelangelo Antonioni concerning the issue of incommunicability in the mid-20th century. (The rest being L’avventura and La notte; which I really want to watch after watching L’eclisse.) The film stars two very, very very charming actors:
I. 😍😍😍😍 Monica Vitti
And II. 😍😍😍😍😍😍 Alain Delon
Those emojis were unironical, btw. Anyway – the film tells us about Vittoria (Vitti), an unhappy woman who broke off her engagement with her fiancé (Francisco Rabal) because she’s not able to love him anymore. She went to Rome’s stock market to meet her mom when she got acquainted with Piero (Delon), a lively broker on the day of the market’s crash. The two begin on a romantic odyssey, and both seem to acknowledge that it is doomed from the start.
Of course, to look through this film, you must re-open your history books. Besides the mid-20th century Roman setting, the film is set in Rome’s EUR suburban district, which is built during Italy’s fascist era when Mussolini built this district for a World Fair that never was, filled with the kind of architecture you would generally see in blogs like Architecture of Doom. The chilling setting is amplified with the era’s concerns of a nuclear arms race. These set-ups help Antonioni convey the sense of impending doom seen in this film.
The film is also a vision of a materialistic world – an amplified vision of the hedonistic, bourgeoisie life. This is best seen through the characters of Piero and Vittoria’s mom. The busy stock market, filled with brokers yelling out offers to sell or buy, is a true visualization of money, making the world go round. In one scene, the brokers were ordered a 1 minute silence to respect the death of a fellow broker, in which during the silence, Piero whispered to Vittoria that “a minute here cost billions.” The minute ended, and the brokers go scurrying and shouting about, like nothing happened. This scene is just one of the many scenes in this film showing us the deterioration of the human condition; how humans value money more than their kin’s life and being.
Another scene is when Vittoria dressed up in blackface and imitated African dancing in her friend’s (who just moved to Italy after spending her life in Kenya) flat. The friend was sickened by Vittoria’s acts and asked her to stop it. I expected the friend to give a lecture on how race is not only skin-deep, but then she rambled on about how “terrible” the people are, referring to them as “monkeys”. Blackface and racism is utterly disgusting, yes, and as I cringed to this scene, I realized that we were asked to view Vittoria and the friend as the spectateur – the audience – and view this as a critique towards the bourgeoisie society who dismiss race as a joke and a critique towards the harsh truth of the horrors of colonialism. (To un-cringe: watch Le samourai. A 60s EU film, rich of philosophy, with a WoC as a major character treated well. Yep.)
Despite the somber themes and messages, the romance scenes between Vittoria and Piero is sweet at its best. As I watched it, I was caught with how it resembled today’s “quirky indie romance” charged with a decent amount of sensuality. Their little talks and playfulness makes us wonder about true love.
Well, turns out that kind of true love we’re dreaming love isn’t true love for them.
Spoilers abound after this sentence. Read on at your own risk.
The powerful ending scenes shows us the real beauty (and gloom) of this film. Vittoria and Pietro were embracing and enjoying the company of each other, when an alarm clock goes off, showing that they have to part. They promise to meet each other at 8, at the “usual place”, the place where they first kissed.
“We’ll see each other tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow.”
“And the day after that, and the next.”
“And the day after that.”
They gave into a warm embrace.
And no one showed up at 8, at the place where they first kissed.
And the last seven minutes drifted on – a montage of the places and things relevant to them, slowly fading away. A display of the sad architecture of the EUR region, with people reading speculative newspapers on oncoming nuclear threats. A day turning into night. A streetlight, burning the frames of the film with its intensity. A stench of existential dread.
It’s fast for them to fall in love – and fast for them to drift apart. Vittoria can’t define her feelings. Piero can’t define what feelings are. And as the two stopped caring, their love fades away – turning into fragments of the forgotten into a world that can’t be saved. Their love, which seems so intense for the audience, was actually superficial.
The last seven minutes help make a mark to the audience. The display of the somber world justifies that everything fades. Everything is ephemeral. Even love is ephemeral. The ending, which seems boring and grounded when watched without context, seem haunting and ethereal after we became audiences of Piero and Vittoria. The film took a shift out of Piero and Vittoria’s lives for a moment, into the eerily relevant montage. Love fades. A human’s existence and his/her momentuous events are just specks of dust in the universe. It’s null and void. Time drifts on.
Piero and Vittoria’s superficial romance is best described in part of the lyrics of the haunting Father John Misty song, I Love You, Honeybear:
The future can’t be real, I barely know how long a moment is /
Unless we’re naked, getting high on the mattress / While the global market crashes
As death fills the streets we’re garden-variety oblivious /
You grab my hand and say in an “I told you so” voice: / “It’s just how we expected.”
Everything is doomed / And nothing will be spared / But I love you, honeybear.