L’eclisse, Italy 1962

The #HydeParkPick for today is L’eclisse (1962) by Michelangelo Antonioni which is available to watch on MUBI for the next 20 days.

Fresh off the end of an affair with an older man Vittoria meets the vital and exciting Piero. The two start to explore their passion for one another while wandering the deserted suburbs of Rome but their affair soon reveals itself to be doomed.

This pick was selected by Leeds Cineforum who invited Fabio Vighi, Professor of Italian and Critical Theory at Cardiff University, to write about themes in Antonioni’s work for  us.

Leeds Cineforum are also keeping active during lock down in part by compiling this rich list of sites where films can be streamed for free. We’re always looking for new contributors so if you find anything interesting on that list or elsewhere and would like to flex your writing muscles please get in touch.

L’eclisse
by  Fabio Vighi, Professor of Italian and Critical Theory at Cardiff University

The dominant theme throughout Antonioni’s filmography is what we could call, borrowing from French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s 1960s motto, “the non existence of the sexual relationship”. This theme is especially apparent in L’eclisse, where the couple’s failure works as the film’s leitmotif from start (Vittoria leaves Riccardo) to end (Vittoria and Piero break up), effectively bringing the main character back to her initial position. Particularly in his Italian films, Antonioni explores fraught relationships by focusing on middle-class alienation against the background of the country’s rapid modernization. But the originality of his cinema has less to do with sociology than with aesthetics. More specifically, it lies in the way narrative content is over-determined by precise formal choices, which result in a stylized framing of the characters’ positioning within their space. Let us consider the long, almost experimental opening sequence of L’eclisse (1962), set in Riccardo’s flat. The sequence details both Vittoria’s inability to come to terms with her state of emotional drainage and Riccardo’s morose ineptitude at responding to it. Antonioni’s minimalist long takes convey a sense of impasse and claustrophobia, while dialogue is sparse and cryptic. This is clearly a cinema that works by subtraction: while the viewer is denied assistance in retrieving narrative information, the camera slowly pans over various objects scattered around the room, as if more interested in framing them than narrating the lovers’ separation. This aspect of Antonioni’s cinema epitomises his typically modernist penchant for sabotaging narrative progression through the erosion of conventional representations of space and time. That is to say, tension is created not so much through action and reaction, as in classical cinema, but by the opposite process of abstraction, fragmentation and de-dramatization, which ultimately reveals the director’s fascination with seemingly meaningless formal patterns.  Continue reading

Happy as Lazzaro / Lazzaro felice (Italy / France / Switzerland / Germany 2018

Screening on Wednesday April 10th at 8.50 p.m. and on Thursday 11th at 6.15 p.m.

You may have already been to an earlier screening or saw the title at the Leeds International Film Festival; however, if you enjoyed it as much as I did you will surely want a second viewing.

Directed by Alice Rohrwacher, one of her earlier films was The Wonders (2014). This film has been described as magic realist. It combines naturalistic observation with a plot that includes references to myth and folk tales, social exploitation and a touch of fantasy. Lazzaro of the title is a sweet natured and apparently simple minded peasant. He is part of a village cut off from modern Italy and involved in some form of share cropping. Later in the film a migration leads members into a lumpen-proletarian existence. The film shares tone and tropes with recent migrant films. It is fascinating and at times moving. Visually Hèléne Louvart’s cinematography is both beautiful and atmospheric and the overall production is excellent. I thought this the best film I saw at the Festival. A friend commented

I greatly admired The Wonders … and this was even better. This tale of a holy fool in a setting which blurs the borders between realism and the fantastic is not, perhaps, for the literal-minded but should delight most of the rest of us.

L’eclisse/The Eclipse, Italy – France 1962.

Screening on Sunday September 20th at 12 noon and again in BYObaby Wednesday September 23rd at 1100.

An interior - Monica Vitti as Vittoria.

An interior – Monica Vitti as Vittoria.

It is good to see two screenings at the cinema of this art film classic. Even more that it will be an opportunity for very young film buffs to become acquainted with one of the masters of modern European cinema. Michelangelo Antonioni achieved fame with a trio of films at the start of the 1960s: L’avventura (1959), La notte (1960) and this final film in the trilogy. People differ about which is the finest; my favourite is L’avventura. However, I think most would admit that this film is the most challenging: a challenge that offers its own rewards.

Antonioni has been described as the ‘poet of alienation’. The films describe failed or rootless relationships: metaphors for the wider social dislocations of the period. But these are relationships embedded in evocative landscapes: both natural and urban. The central relationship in this film is between Vittoria, played by one of the icons of sixties cinema Monica Vitti: and Riccardo, played by Alain Delon, a fine actor who moved easily between French and Italian films.

The predominant landscape is Rome, following in the footsteps of the neo-realists and Federico Fellini. But Antonioni concentrates on the city’s Stock Exchange and city’s modern and fashion conscious EUR zone. In these films the landscape is an accompanying character, here presented in the luminous black and white cinematography of Gianni Di Venanzo. Interiors are equally impressive and suggestive. It is the landscape and its architecture that dominates the final moments of the film: a series of beautifully composed shots which close with another metaphoric image.

The film has been restored by the BFI onto a digital package, running 126 minutes with English subtitles.

Federico Fellini’s Otto e Mezzo / , Italy 1963.

Klat_otto_e_mezzo

I am afraid if you’ve just noticed this then you missed seeing this great film – it was screened on Thursday June 4th. There was a fairly good audience, 70 or more I reckoned. And they were clearly divided about the film. A couple passed me as the end credits rolled by – he hated it, she thought it was great. In the foyer a group of four were debating the merits or demerits of the film. Outside there were trios and pairs, one couple considering their responses. I was surprised so many people were seeing the film for the first time: I have had the pleasure of being familiar with the film for years. But it is reassuring that a film can stimulate so much intense discussion.

The HPPH Brochure notes that the film was selected in the Top Ten in the 2012 S&S Critics Poll: at number 10. Mote notably, it was number 4 in the parallel Director’s Poll and Federico Fellini was top director.

The film has so many virtues, fine cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo; a great score by Nino Rota; and superb editing by Leo Catozzo. And the cast! – at times it felt as if Fellini was throwing a party for all the wonderful actors who had graced his films. This screening was sourced from a DCP. I thought the transfer was good, but the digital version did not do full justice to sparkling contrast tween black and white, especially in the long shots. But the sound was great.

And despair not. I last saw this film two or three years ago – so it will come round again. And it is worth waiting to see it ‘real’, on the big screen.