Movie Note:
Longing
28 February 2019

¶ During my daily lying-down period yesterday (it was followed by an actual nap), I watched Michelangelo Antonio’s L’Eclisse (Eclipse). It is not as notorious as L’Avventura, but it is almost as enigmatic and boring. Boring, that is, for the first-time viewer, especially the young first-time viewer, which I was, once upon a time in college. No matter how hard I tried to figure out what Eclipse was about, I was left with the suspicion that Antonio had exposed extraordinary lengths of film to tell a very short story.

I am not going to explain how much more sophisticated my response to this somewhat hypnotized movie has become over the years. What I want to mention is the durability with which the opening scene stuck with me for decades, long after I’d forgotten just which movie it belonged to. This scene, which seems, the first time you see it, to be much, much longer than it really is, features two adults in an affluent interior. There are lots of carefully-arranged things in a decor that combines the modern with the worthy. The adults are not so well-arranged. Although dressed in street clothes, they look tired and unkempt. They have, it is revealed, stayed up all night discussing their future together. The woman has decided that they don’t have one. The man wants to know why. The woman cannot begin to say. So she says very little, and he doesn’t say much more, and the scene unrolls in silence broken only by the sound of the woman’s heels on the floorboards — she is constantly, rather pointlessly, moving around the room. When she leaves, he follows her — through a bizarre landscape of well-paved streets and sidewalks, and strangely open fields. What kind of a neighborhood is this? And what is that mushroom thing, that tall edifice like a saucer on stilts? Is this science fiction?

It is Mussolini fiction. Half the movie is shot in the Rome that coexists with the one that tourists know. The other half is shot in EUR, a large development south of the city that was to have been the site of a world’s fair in 1942. When Antonioni shot Eclipse, in 1962 (or maybe the year before), EUR was still being developed, in a style that can only be called Angeleno. Full of weedy vacant lots and buildings under construction, EUR provided the perfect set for Antonioni’s study of modern anomie. Plus, it was real! But that’s not what I want to talk about, either. 

What I want to say is that for years, I viewed the opening scene with envy and ambition. If there is anything that is not troubling the lovers, it is money. They’re fixed for money. They can indulge in hours of disappointed, disaffected conversation, a sort of slow-motion spat, without giving a thought to their bank balances. Impecunious and improvident wretch that I was as a young man, I longed for such soundly luxurious unhappiness. I didn’t so much mind being anxious and miserable; what I hated was being anxious and miserable about money. The protracted beginning of Eclipse captured my dream. 

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