**May Contain Spoilers**
After years of seeking out acceptable VHS copies of L'ECLISSE, at last this elusive, enigmatic, haunting film has come to DVD. To be fair, some VHS copies were not so bad-looking, but few were letterboxed, so many viewers have never seen the film in its original widescreen format. Criterion presents L'ECLISSE in widescreen format and in a clean, beautifully restored print. There is a good amount of rapid flashing in the opening scene, but as we are engulfed in Antonioni's vision of the world this becomes less noticeable. The soundtrack also has the recessed quality familiar from many Criterion releases, but that can be remedied by a volume boost. Apart from these minor criticisms, this is an exemplary release. It may indeed surpass Criterion's edition of L'AVVENTURA in terms of the supplementary material.
On disc two, there is a pair of excellent features: "The Sickness of Eros" features interviews by Antonioni scholars and associates. These people actually have substantial things to say about the film and the director. The other feature, a documentary, "Michelangelo Antonioni: the Eye that Changed Cinema" is a perfect example of its kind. There is a lot of footage of the director discussing his films (and saying interesting things about them) as well as other relevant comments by scholars and collaborators. Of even greater interest are the numerous clips and stills of the director on the set of many of his works. Both these documentary features are eminently re-playable. There is also an informative, film-length commentary by Richard Pena.
L'ECLISSE seems to sum up the ideas that evolve in Antonioni's earlier films from LE AMICHE through LA NOTTE. But it also pares down these ideas and renders them in an abstract, or nearly abstract way. This is why the film is so challenging for some viewers. From the opening shot, we are in Antonioni's world: a composed still-life of a room and its ordinary contents; the camera pans right (here we see the benefit of the widescreen format) and a shirtsleeve is glimpsed; immediately, it moves and we see Francisco. This opening seems to say: humans are part of the world. They live in it, but they are part of it too. Vittoria is then introduced, first from below, the we are allowed to see her whole. The film continues to fragment the characters in this way, cutting off our view of their complete bodies, as if to say the people themselves are not complete. Vittoria's first actual action in the film is to adjust a small, empty picture frame and to reach through it to move some objects on the desk within the scope of the frame. This is another typical Antonioni theme. He expresses it many times with frames, both picture- and window, and with doorways and arches. Humans need to see a shape to reality, a formality of some kind, to make it comprehensible.
Monica Vitti is Vittoria in this 1962 film. She is the ultimate Antonioni existential protagonist. Presumably sometime shortly before the film begins, Vittoria has become aware of a basic human dilemma: life is constantly in a state of change; we try to hold onto emotions and ideas, but the forward-moving nature of existence can render them meaningless' also, there is some mystery under the surface of life. Vittoria ends a relationship that clearly was 'going nowhere', much to the dismay of her nearly immobile lover (Franscisco Rabal). She leaves him and begins a wandering journey, an exploration that makes up the body of the film. Along the way, she will respond in different ways to her gradually evolving state of mind. One response Antonioni's characters often have is to try to escape, symbolically perhaps to transcend their existence. Vittoria accepts an invitation from a friend to fly to Verona and back to Rome in a private plane. The experience is exhilarating, but ultimately empty. She also dresses in native African costume and dances quite well in an attempt to transcend her normal world and normal self. This too is ultimately devoid of real meaning. Very typically of an Antonioni protagonist, Vittoria allows herself to explore the possibility of romance as a kind of escape or distraction. She meets, and apparently becomes emotionally involved with the impossibly handsome, but empty Piero (Alain Delon). Through his association with Vittoria, Piero too becomes aware of the incompleteness of life. At one telling point, Vittoria and Piero are crossing a street; she stops and says "siamo in media" ("we are halfway") with a definite portent in her voice and expression. The film is made up of many small moments like this that seem to express the whole of it. Human experience is only "halfway"---there is more to life than what we see or think we know. Something else lies under the surface. Antonioni explores this theme in all his films, most famously four years later in BLOW-UP. Here, the style of the film is so rarefied and so nearly abstract that it may take more than one viewing to appreciate it. Vittoria and Piero, together, realize that truly connecting, finding a meaning beyond the fleeting sexual one (which is yet another empty attempt to transcend) may be impossible. So Antonioni, in perhaps the most famous sequence, permanently removes the characters from the film. As if to emphasize the universality of his theme and the interchangeablility of human experience, we are shown a woman who closely resembles Vitti, but who passes anonymously from the frame as she did. The famous wordless sequence creates an uncanny, almost frightening sense of anticipation: we feel we are waiting for something to happen, for someone to arrive in this neighborhood of unfinished buildings, circulating city buses, and symmetrical crosswalks, but only a state of pure being seems to exist now. It's almost an Eastern way of looking at the world. The film leaves the viewer with a lot to contemplate and calls many back to see more in it than can be addressed in a brief review like this.
This new Criterion DVD of L'ECLISSE should not be overlooked by anyone interested in modern film.