Widely regarded as a classic, Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Eclisse is a remarkably beautiful film, at least in the visual sense. The black and white cinematography is so perfect here that it makes for a film that captivates so strongly with its pictures that it's almost easy to get lost in them.
The movie follows Vittoria (Monica Vitti), a stunningly beautiful woman who works as a translator. She's just ended her long term relationship with her fiancé, Riccardo (Francisco Rabal), his jealousy issues finally becoming more than she could handle. Although she's used to being with someone and feels tinges of loneliness here and there, she socializes with friends and meets a woman just back from Africa who left that continent impressed with how unimportant material possessions were to its inhabitants. From here, Vittoria becomes bored once again, her friends offer her now real substantive connections, and so she heads to the stock exchange to visit her mother (Lilla Brignone). Her broker, Piero (Alain Delon), has done very well for her and things look great until the market does what the market does and her profits soon turn to loss.
While Vittoria's mother is weighing her options and completely ignoring her daughter, Piero and Vittoria begin a relationship together but it seems they are coming at this from different perspectives. Vittoria wants passion, romance and a grand love affair while Pierro seems to want to avoid commitment and really just wants to have a good time. As their relationship evolves, each must try to figure out what really matters to them in life if they're to make a go of it and find happiness together… if that's even possible.
L'Eclisse, interestingly enough, is a beautiful movie full of beautiful people completely disconnected from what should really matter to them in life. This, of course, is the point. Here we see a cast of affluent and well to do characters living the good life in a beautiful city in a beautiful country and yet, as we know, money can't buy happiness. Nowhere is this made more obvious than with the character of Vittioria. She's stunning, gorgeous, and in many ways she has it all, but she needs the human connection to really feel fulfilled. Whether or not she'll find this with the incredibly handsome and completely charming Piero is the core of the film's ruminations on life, love and fulfillment and it's here that the director obviously wants us to get caught up in the drama. And we do. The fact that all of this loneliness and personal distance is captured with such remarkable imagery makes the film entirely watchable, never dull, while the performances are anchored as such that we never doubt the performers in their roles.
The black and white cinematography somehow manages to communicate the picture's atmosphere more effectively than it probably would if it had been made in color. The different shades of contrast that make up the picture reflect the mood explored in Antonioni's examination of the characters in the picture, somehow making their jadedness and cynicism all the more real. As they go about their lives, surrounded by human activity, a constant in the big city, we feel their need to remove themselves from the endlessness of ‘the daily grind.' While sometimes it is hard to connect with Vittoria and Piero on a personal level, the film definitely works in how it asks the audience to find in themselves a sense of purpose. So in that regard, it almost doesn't matter if we feel for our leads that much or not. The end result is an interesting take on life, love and purpose and how all that intertwines to make (or not) the most out of human existence.
L'Eclisse looks great on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection, presented here in 1.85.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. The black and white picture shows excellent contrast and strong fine detail throughout the film. While grain is obvious throughout the picture, as it should be, there isn't much in the way of actual print damage to complain about while black levels stay strong, deep and solid for the duration of the picture. Texture looks good and close up shots really show off how much depth there is to the image. There are no obvious issues with compression artifacts nor are there any problems with edge enhancement. All in all, this is a very strong, film-like transfer that presents this beautifully shot film in excellent condition.
The audio is handled by an Italian language LPCM Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. Likewise, the lossless audio track on the disc is of strong quality. Dialogue is clean, poised and properly mixed and the levels are well balanced throughout. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion to note in the mix and the score has good range and presence to it. For an older, single channel track the audio quality on this release is very good.
The extras on the disc begin with an audio commentary from film scholar Richard Peña, who also serves as the Program Director at New York City's Film Society of Lincoln Center. Peña, not surprisingly, takes a pretty scholarly approach to the material but in addition to offering up some analysis and interpretation of what the filmmaker was going for also delivers plenty of interesting facts and biographical information. He does a nice job of painting a picture of where Antonioini's career was at this point, provides some insight into why the leads play their characters the way they do here and makes some interesting points about the look of the film. It's a pretty in-depth commentary that sheds some welcome light on many aspects of the production.
Also on the disc is a fifty-six minute featurette entitled Michelangelo Antonioni: The Eye That Changed Cinema, which is a nice mix of biographical information and a pretty comprehensive look at the director's output. It originally appeared on the DVD but if you haven't seen it before it does a very good job of explaining his outlook and exploring his filmmaking style in addition to detailing the history of the man himself. Elements Of Landscape is a twenty-two-minute featurette made in 2005 that finds film critic Adriano Aprà joining Carlo di Carlo (who knew the director very well) discussing the director and L'eclisse specifically. The emphasis of their talk is on the specific look that the director employed in the picture and about the relationship that develops and evolves between the characters played by Delon and Vitti. Menus and chapter stops are also included and as this is a dual format release, two DVDs including the feature and all of the extras from the Blu-ray are also included. Inside the keepcase is a booklet of liner notes from film critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Gilberto Perez in addition to some writing from Antonioni himself elaborating on his work on this particular film.
L'Eclisse isn't as jam packed with supplemental material as some of The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray releases have been and in fact it simply ports over the extras from the 2005 DVD release. It does, however, give the film a beautiful high definition presentation offering it up with a gorgeous transfer and solid audio. As to the movie itself, it's a wonderful film full of fantastic visuals with two really impressive performances from Delon and Vitti. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.