Saturday, March 03, 2007
It's been lucky days for me. By coincidence shortly after vieweing a Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Eclisse in the comfort of my home far too late at night; I stumbled over to The House Next Door and came upon a post on Antonioni by Ryland Walker Knight (yes, you should click on that link and read it). His post struck me for it's candor. It also made me think back to my own into to Antonioni.
He wrote, For a long time I thought I didn’t get Antonioni. I rejected what I saw—a cool, detached intellectualism—as stuffy pretentiousness. I knew something was happening in L’avventura but I couldn’t articulate my anxious distaste. Also, I was bored. So I let it sit, somewhere behind something else in the recesses I don’t dip into every day and went on enjoying Godard, devouring the French director’s 1960s major works to the point that Antonioni wasn’t even a part of my filmic landscape." It's weird. This struck me because if there was a film that turned me entirely onto a world of cinema that I had yet to explore it was Godard's Band of Outsiders. After that I needed to see every Godard. And then anything remotely connected to the French New Wave. During that run I fell in love with Godard's Contempt. To this day, it may reamain my favorite film. I heard references to Antonioni while listening to the commentary, so, L'Avventurra made it's way to the Netflix queue. I was astounded.
Even on a 19 inch televison I was so taken by the images. The pace of the film was slow, I could not relate to the high class nature of the characters, yet I was completely transfixed. A friend called me halfway through it. I told her I was watching a movie but would be glad to start it over of she joined me. So I rewatched from the begging and was still astounded. Close to 5 hours were spent that night watching the film, if you include the parts of the commentary we watched. What was it about these seemingly cold higher class characters that was drawing me in so much? Sure I wished I had the money to sail off to a private island, but if I did so I don't think it would be with them for company. While the madison scene in Band of Outsiders is a scene I would go back to far more often than any of Antonioni's scenes (perhaps for my own sanity?) I couldn't help but be intrigued and try to figure out what it was about Antonioni's films that made me so curious. Yet, at the same time, it's not exactly a film that screams, "Invite over the friends, it's Saturday night! Let's watch a movie!"
Fast forward months later, I come home from working two jobs. It's 1130 at night. I wish I was tired, but I am not. In the Netflix envelope is L'Eclisse I notice the two hour running time, think twice about putting it in, but put it in anyway. I could always finish it tomorrow. But minutes in, I am again hooked. As Knight mentioned, "And how does it open? Monica Vitti, queen of anxious mugging, rejects her life indoors and walks outside, down into town. I was hooked. Still, as a colleague said, we must admit the film is “freakishly boring” in stretches, if brilliant. It’s how we navigate that boredom that defines our experience..."
Beginning to end two hours felt like 30 minutes to me. Even the boring scenes, a scene at the stock market that may drag on too long with no real advance in the story, I was riveted by the visuals. I was taken by the choreagraphy of the stock brokers. I anxiously awaited Vittoria (Monica Vitti's) arrival to the market to see where the story would go from here.
In the second half of the film again, I found myself confused as to why I was spending so much time with these characters. Like in L'Avventurra I found myself thinking that they were cold. There were moments where the characters gave themselves over to happiness or joy. But these moments never seemed to last longer than just moments. I alternated between pity for the characters, and something short of, but not quite disdain. I thought for a long time that the repression of joy for these characters was self imposed. But as the film went on there was a feeling that it wasn't self imposed. These characters would feel joy fleetingly, but in the long run they were likely doomed. This joy would never be longer than just those moments. Even if they gave all their effort (and who's to say they weren't?) there were limitations on them by something larger.
Both L'Avventura and L'Eclisse are grouped together by film scholars, and I believe Antonioni himself, as part of an Ennui Trilogy. I have not seen the other film is this trilogy, La Notte, or any other Antonioni film for that matter. Still after seeing only these two films I find myself in awe of Antonioni and his stories. Yet, I find myself not wanting to love his films. It almost seems to me that to love L'Avventura or L'Eclisse one would need to share that doomed world view of the protaganists, and if not the protoganists, cause sometimes they don't seem to even realize it, then at least that doomed world view of the camera. It's a world view that I don't want to entirely share. While I can look at the last seven minutes or so of L'Eclisse (though to be fair i should maybe say the entire film) as some of the most invigorating and thought provoking film making that I have seen, I find myself not wanting to love it.