Vittoria (Monica Vitti) works as a translator in Rome, but she is feeling the pressure of her relationship with fiancé Riccardo (Francisco Rabal) to the extent that this morning they are on the verge of breaking up. Their conversation is halting, they are not seeing eye to eye, and their love is heading for emotional disaster, so before things get any worse, Vittoria walks out into the cool air and heads for the centre of the city, even though Riccardo follows her, but she is in no mood for his pleading... but does she need a new man?
L'Eclisse, or The Eclipse if you're translating, was the third and final in director Michelangelo Antonioni's trilogy of movies casting a regretful eye over the plight of modern relationships and how they were essentially doomed when the world they existed in cared little for their endurance or otherwise. The other films were L'Avventura, the mystery without a solution, and La Notte, and Vitti who was his muse at the time starred in all three. Some say that she never found a better director, but maybe it was that Antonioni never found a better actress to embody his anxieties.
Vittoria heads for the Italian stock exchange where her mother (Lilla Brignone) is addicted to the business of shares, and while there she meets Piero (Alain Delon), a stockbroker who is supposed to sum up all that is flashy about everything bang up to date in society, which Antonioni evidently has little enthusiasm for - wouldn't it be refreshing to see a film where the director was enraptured by the possibilities of the now? Or would that be Michael Bay? Anyway, here is our little ray of sunshine in this unforgiving world, that the disenchanted Vittoria can find true love.
Of course, it won't last, a development which was as anti-traditional Hollywood endings as it was possible to get at this time. For this reason many viewers in the sixties found themselves haunted by L'Eclisse as if it were confirming their worst fears about the lack of hope modern romance held, as if living in these cold, futuristic cities that the film believes Rome has become is enough to scupper any feelings of true love. The funny thing is, Vitti and Delon especially have rarely seemed to full of life when they are playing their scenes together, and it seems heartless to drive them apart as the director does here.
Like Piero, Vittoria's friends are superficial and another reason she feels alienated, but she makes a genuine connection with her new boyfriend so that if anything, it is actually unconvincing that someone so desperately looking for emotional satisfaction would let him slip away. Nevertheless, this is part of the viewpoint that sees the world existing under the shadow of not only the nuclear age, and all the potential mass destruction that implies, but a lack of commitment to an era where there does not seem much to gain in getting serious about anything except making or spending money. You may well be turned off by the film's distant and underlying self-pity, but the final montage of shots of the world without Piero and Vittoria's love provides a conclusion that is in effect very eerie and unsettling, neatly summing up the sense of deep unease that runs through the drama.
Although he divided audiences into those who found his mysterious works pretentious or fascinatingly enigmatic, this celebrated Italian writer and director was always interesting and stylish. L'Avventura in 1960 was his international breakthrough although he'd been directing since the forties, and he followed it with La Notte, L'Eclisse, The Red Desert, Blowup (perhaps his most famous film), Zabriskie Point (with its explosive climax), The Passenger and Identification of a Woman among others. He even continued working after serious stroke, Beyond the Clouds being his best known film from his later period.