Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse, the final film in his “trilogy” (which also includes L’avventura and La notte,) receives a 2-disc Criterion DVD edition, which presents the film on the first dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Taken from a new high-definition transfer at the time, it presents a surprisingly crisp image, with a digital presentation well above your average standard-definition transfer. Clarity and detail is rather high, particularly in close-ups, one in particular at the end where you can make out every clearly defined hair on a man’s head. Long shots don’t deliver the same amount of detail but the image overall still manages to deliver as filmic a presentation as possible on the format, despite the occasional bit of ringing that shows up in some of the landscape shots.
The only real disappointment would probably be the source materials. Though cleaned up nicely with very few marks it has a few distracting issues. The least problematic one would probably be some thick, dark tram lines that show up at the end of the film. This isn’t a big deal but since the rest of the film is so clean, despite some minor bits of debris showing up on occasion, this issue becomes far more distracting. But an even bigger distraction would have to be the flickering and pulsating that is pretty consistent throughout the film. The image looks like it is almost bubbling up because of this effect, and darker scenes make it even more noticeable. I’m guessing it was hard to correct at the time (a new Blu-ray/DVD edition from Criterion actually corrects this) otherwise I’m sure it would have been removed. Though an unfortunate issue that is pretty much always there throughout the runtime of the film, the rest of the presentation is quite solid, delivering few artifacts. 7/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Though it may look like a big 2-disc edition (with both discs being dual-layer) there is actually very little on here, with 3-hours’ worth of material, which includes the 2-hour commentary track. Thankfully the material manages to make up for any short comings in length through the overall quality.
Film scholar Richard Peña first offers up an audio commentary where he offers his own interpretations on the film, explaining possible meanings (if any) in some of the images, Antonioni’s framing, use of objects, general film visual language, and also comments on the performances, wondering aloud what it may have been like for an actor to act in one of Antonioni’s films and the possible frustrations that come with it (no mention of the frustrations Mastroianni and Moreau expressed while making La notte.) He also contextualizes the film’s “plot” by explaining Italy’s economic climate at the time (it was booming) and even gives a general overview of the stock market. He of course talks about Antonioni’s trilogy—which is made up of L’avventura, La notte and of course this film—and how each presents differing views of Eros and alienation in the modern world, and then offers a general overview of the production, even mentioning deleted sequences, including one about a scene where Vitti’s character visits a museum and becomes fascinated with ancient fossils. I rather enjoyed this scholarly track and it never feels bloated or stuffy, with Peña keeping the track going at a nice pace while nicely unraveling the film.
The remaining supplements are then found on the second dual-layer disc (why it’s dual-layer for barely 80-minutes’ worth of material is beyond me.)
Criterion first includes the 56-minute 2001 documentary by Sandro Lai, The Eye that Changed Cinema. Consisting of archival interviews with Antonioni, along with archival footage of the various award wins for his films, the documentary examines the filmmaker’s development of style and language over the course of his career. It’s nicely broken out, pulling in interviews taken around the time of each release of a film. During these interviews he goes over what he’s trying to accomplish with each film in terms of filmmaking, not necessarily what he’s trying to convey in what story there is, ultimately coming off more as a painter discussing his work rather than a painter. You get an idea he was still trying to discover his style and voice, so to speak, in earlier interviews, but the later ones lack that, especially when he talks about Red Desert. His later discussions about making films in America prove to be especially fascinating, particularly for Zabriskie Point where he compares the differing working conditions between Europe and the States, and also talks about what he finds most fascinating about the States, coming off fairly excited about the move, while a couple of other later discussions about the technical components that go into his films seems to invigorate him even more. In one he seems rather blown away about the advancement of computer technology and how its use will expand imaginations and visuals in terms of cinema, bringing Lucas and Spielberg up as examples. Of course he does ponder how the general advancement in technology would weigh on human relationships, which made me try to picture what a film of his would look like if he made one today. Concluding with a look at a museum opened in his honour, this documentary was a wonderful and particularly fascinating examination of the man and his work, from the man himself, opening up one’s understanding of his work in a fairly concise and engaging way.
The second disc then close with Elements of Landscape, a 22-minute interview segment featuring film critic Adriano Aprà and Antonioni’s friend Carlo di Carlo. The two were filmed separately and Aprà has the bulk of the interview, talking about Antonioni’s examinations of the modern world and how it has impacted relationships, and how the filmmaker conveys this through his framing, use of objects, and the actors themselves who are referred to as being “like zombies” as they also had to fit into the director’s visual language. Carlo pops up occasionally about how some ideas more than likely came about and also explains the title, while both then talk about the film’s very unconventional ending. The content here is good and adds yet more educational material about Antonioni’s style, further aiding in how to read his films, but this one manages to come off as the stuffiest feature in a set of supplements that surprisingly seemed to avoid ever coming off that way.
The release also comes with a fairly extensive booklet, including more great material on the film and Antonioni’s film work by Jonathan Rosenbaum, as well as an essay by Gilberto Perez on the collaborations between Antonioni and Monica Vitti. The booklet then concludes with some excerpts from Antonioni’s own writings on his work. In addition to the supplements on the discs this booklet manages to stack on more wonderful insights into L’eclisse and the director.
Antonioni’s films are not easy, from their occasionally disorienting visuals (what are we looking at and why are we looking it?) and cutting (how the hell did we get here?) to their unconventional narratives they can be incredibly abstract and occasionally alienating. A lot of newcomers may be unsure of what they’re seeing and feel lost. Criterion usually aims to alleviate that in their supplements for Antonioni’s films but I feel L’eclisse, despite the short run time overall, represents Criterion’s best efforts in this regard. All of the material taken together probably offers the best primer on how to look at Antonioni’s work and really helps on deciphering not only this film, but his work as a whole. The supplements may feel like they’re slight, but I think this is a case where the quality clearly negates any concerns over quantity. 8/10