Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse (The Eclipse, 1962) opens rather enigmatically with the fatigued denouement of the relationship between the film’s central protagonist, Vittoria (Monica Vitti), and her former beau, Riccardo (Francisco Rabal). With little dialogue exchanged between the characters, the breakdown of their love affair is unconventionally played out through unreciprocated glances, objects, incidental sounds and surfaces. The soft whirring of a pedestal fan, an ashtray filled with spent cigarettes and the reflection of Vittoria’s slender legs and kitten heels on the apartment’s shiny marble floor culminate in an atmosphere of intense claustrophobia before Vittoria breaks the heavy silence with “Well, Riccardo?” These opening moments are not only compositionally striking in cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo’s employment of decentred framing to visualise the romantic fissure occurring between the characters, but also gesture towards Antonioni’s description of L’eclisse as a “story of imprisoned sentiments.”1

Largely regarded as the conclusion of a trilogy that is preceded by L’avventura (The Adventure, 1960) and La notte (The Night, 1961), and occasionally referred to as the third part of a tetralogy that includes Il deserto rosso (Red Desert, 1964), the idea for L’eclisse crystalised for Antonioni while filming a solar eclipse in Florence: “There was a silence different from all other silences, an ashen light, and then darkness – total stillness. I thought that during an eclipse even our feelings stop.”2 Taking the emotional eclipse between Vittoria and Riccardo as its starting point, the film shadows the rootless wandering of Vittoria in the wake of her separation. Initially seeking the comfort of her mother (Lilla Brignone), Vittoria journeys to the Borsa, Rome’s monolithic stock exchange, where she is confronted with her mother’s apathy towards any subject that doesn’t involve money and has a fleeting encounter with a stock broker, Piero (Alain Delon). This meeting with Piero determines the trajectory of the film, as he and Vittoria slowly become erotically entangled.  

Although the plot of L’eclisse predominantly charts a narrative of desire, it is also deeply embedded within the post-war milieu of Italy’s economic boom. This is evidenced in the scene in which Vittoria shows a photograph of her family to Piero and comments, “This is what Mama’s afraid of: poverty.” Reflecting in 1963 on the collective impact of L’avventura, La notte and L’eclisse, film critic Philip Strick places the films within a context of paranoia and anxiety, writing that Antonioni’s cinema records “the effect of the last twelve years not simply upon the Italian intellect but also upon disillusioned, bomb-haunted, sex-conscious, agnostic society in […] general.”3 Although L’eclisse casts a highly critical gaze at capitalism, particularly in scenes filmed at the Borsa, the characters’ feverish devotion to materialism also indicates a pervasive societal malaise. As Vittoria wearily confides to her neighbour, Marta (Mirella Ricciardi), “Here it’s all so complicated…even love.” 

In such an environment of psychological isolation and disconnection, effective communication between the characters is rendered problematic. Although Vittoria’s employment as a translator requires her to work with words, she is seemingly anaesthetised to their meaning and application in her daily life: “What can I say? Sometimes needle and thread or a book or a man is the same thing.” In employing minimal dialogue in L’eclisse, Peter Brunette argues that Antonioni creates a film “expressly about humans looking, whether it be at pictures, paintings, photographs, or at one another.”4 This visual emphasis on engagement extends to the manner in which Antonioni utilises architecture and space as alternative modes of expression. In this sense, the themes of alienation and loneliness in L’eclisse are not explicitly stated but framed by the topography of the film’s locations. 

Primarily unfolding in two key settings, the Borsa and the EUR (Esposizone Universale Roma) district where Vittoria lives, Antonioni’s juxtaposition of these locations establishes two irreconcilable moods in the film. Specifically, the raw, frantic energy that pervades the historical setting of the Borsa, which occupies the remains of the Temple of Hadrian, acts as a counterpoint to the strange desolation of the EUR, the planned residential district overseen by Benito Mussolini as the site for the 1942 World Fair.5 While World War II prevented the opening of the World Fair, the EUR remained with its architectural “mélange of ancient Rome and ultracontemporary styles.”6 Far from evoking a space that epitomises the perfect unity of classicism and modernity, Di Venanzo’s camerawork renders the EUR as an inhospitable and otherworldly place – a sterile terrain of empty streets and fascist architecture in which Vittoria and Piero attempt to carve out a lovers’ geography at a banal intersection adjacent to a seemingly abandoned building enveloped in scaffolding. If, as Mitchell Schwarzer contends, Antonioni’s films “confront the disturbing affinities between the modern urbanized landscape and the modern mind”, the film’s setting suggests that the characters’ psychological states are beset with uncanny displacements and unfinished infrastructure.7

Antonioni’s filmic architecture of dissonance and disappearance is further emphasised by Giovanni Fusco’s score. As Michel Chion argues, L’eclisse “is deserted by its accompanying music […] the potential presence of this music is evoked at the beginning of the film, so that the subsequent actions resonate in its silence.”8 Indeed, Italian singer Mina’s rendition of the “Eclisse Twist”, which accompanies the opening credits, promises an exuberant sensualness that is abruptly interrupted by one of Fusco’s ominous compositions. In the slippage from the “Eclisse Twist” to the menacing tones of Fusco’s piano playing, the soundtrack also foregrounds the film’s tension between presence and absence. Antonioni “opposed the traditional musical commentary” and the “refusal to let silence have its place, this need to fill supposed voids”, and he arguably reaches the apotheosis of this approach in the final moments of L’eclisse. 9 As the camera haunts the places where Vittoria and Piero have previously lingered – lurking around corners, capturing shadows on the pavement and tracing the textured facades of buildings – the score does not fill any voids; rather, much like the viewer, it dwells within the emotional chasm that has been opened by the film’s narrative. 

L’eclisse (The Eclipse, 1962 Italy, France 126 mins)

Prod. Co: Cineriz, Interopa Film, Paris Film Prod: Raymond Hakim, Robert Hakim Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni Scr: Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonio Guerra, Elio Bartolini, Ottiero Ottieri Mus: Giovanni Fusco Phot: Gianni Di Venanzo Ed: Eraldo Da Roma Prod. Des: Piero Poletto Cos. Des: Bice Brichetto, Gitt Magrini

Cast: Alain Delon, Monica Vitti, Francisco Rabal, Lilla Brignone, Rossana Rory, Mirella Ricciardi, Louis Seigner


  1. Michelangelo Antonioni, quoted in William Arrowsmith, Antonioni: The Poet of Images (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 66.
  2. Michelangelo Antonioni, The Architecture of Vision: Writings and Interviews on Cinema (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), p. 196.
  3. Philip Strick, Michelangelo Antonioni (Essex: Motion Publications, 1963), p. 8.
  4. Peter Brunette, The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 74.
  5. Thomas Harrison and Sarah Carey, “The World Outside the Window – Antonioni’s Architectonics of Space and Time,” Italian Culture 29.1 (2013): 46.
  6. Brunette op. cit., p. 77.
  7. Mitchell Schwarzer, “The Consuming Landscape: Architecture in the Films of Michelangelo Antonio”, in Architecture and Film, Mark Lamster, ed. (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000), p. 213.
  8. Michel Chion, “What a Time It Was! An Essay on Antonioni’s L’eclisse,” The Soundtrack, 3.1 (2010): 7.
  9. Antonioni, quoted in Pierre Billard, “An Interview with Michelangelo Antonioni”, in Michelangelo Antonioni: Interviews, Bert Cardullo, ed. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008), p. 52.

About The Author

Danica van de Velde is a writer based in Perth, Western Australia. Her writing on film has been published in a Dance Mag, Another Gaze and Screen Education, as well as the Refocus book collections on Michel Gondry and Susanne Bier. She was the recipient of the Senses of Cinema-Monash Essay Prize in 2019 for her essay on the cinematic self-adaptations of Marguerite Duras.

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