The concluding chapter of Michelangelo Antonioni’s informal trilogy on contemporary malaise (following L’avventura and La note), L’eclisse tells the story of a young woman (Monica Vitti) who leaves one lover (Francisco Rabal) and drifts into a relationship with another (Alain Delon). Using the architecture of Rome as a backdrop for the doomed affair, Antonioni achieves the apotheosis of his style in this return to the theme that preoccupied him the most: the difficulty of connection in an alienating modern world.
The Criterion Collection delivers an upgraded dual-format edition of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The Blu-ray features a new 1080p/24hz high-definition digital transfer on a dual-layer disc. The first dual-layer DVD presents a standard-definition version of the same transfer. It has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
I think the same master used for the previous DVD edition has been used here, though Criterion has cleaned it up quite a bit more. The image on the previous DVD pulsated frequently, more noticeable in darker sequences, and it could be incredibly distracting. Damage wasn’t too bad otherwise, limited to some minor bits of debris and some heavy tram lines during the final sequence. This new presentation actually removes the pulsating that was present on the old DVD, and they also clean up some of the other moments containing damage, including making those tram lines at the end less obvious (though they’re still there if less obvious.) Debris is still there, but it’s infrequent. Interestingly some of the debris is a little more obvious on the Blu-ray in comparison to the old DVD (and the new one in this set) because of the increased resolution.
Despite the old DVD’s short comings it still delivered a surprisingly crisp image, with a nice level of detail. The Blu-ray offers a slightly crisper image, enhancing the various textures that appear. Backgrounds also deliver a higher amount of detail. Contrast looks good and gray levels are better rendered as well.
The new DVD downgrades in detail level in comparison to the Blu-ray, though still looks good. In terms of sharpness and detail it’s not too different from the old DVD, but since this DVD uses the new transfer it also drops the pulsating, and fixes some of the more problematic instances of damage.
It’s a strong presentation, both the DVD and Blu-ray offering strong improvements over Criterion’s previous edition.
The film’s Italian mono soundtrack is offered in linear 1.0 PCM on the Blu-ray and Dolby Digital 1.0 on the DVD. Both sound a little cleaner in comparison to the previous DVD edition, but the tracks are limited by the film’s age. It’s fairly flat, lacking any fidelity, with edgy music and dialogue that can sound detached from the film. Not great but I feel this is about as good as it will get.
Although released originally as a 2-disc DVD set there wasn’t a large selection of supplements, with only a little over 3-hours’ worth appearing, and that’s counting the commentary for the 2+ hour film. Thankfully they at least make up for it in 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, 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. On top of all of this he 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.
(As a note, as of this writing there is a glitch with this release, or at least my copy of it: while the Blu-ray is fine the DVD version in this release actually contains the wrong commentary track. In place of Peña’s track the DVD provides Matthew Bernstein’s commentary for Criterion’s Riot in Cell Block 11. Again, the Blu-ray edition has the correct commentary track, so no worries for those wanting this edition for the Blu-ray, but for those who are considering to pick this up for the DVD, which does contain an improved presentation over the old one, may want to keep an ear out for any possible replacement. The copy I received was a finished version. I didn’t notice any other issues with the DVDs in this release.)
Criterion next ports over 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 discs 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.
For the DVD the two featurettes appear on the second single-layer DVD, while the commentary (which is, as noted above, not the correct one as of this writing) accompanies the film on the first dual-layer disc.
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 a 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. Though the booklet is laid out a little differently with different photos, the written material appears to be the same.
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.
Update: Criterion has corrected the issue with the commentary and all future pressings of this edition will include DVDs with the correct commentary. For anyone who purchases this edition but still receives the DVD with the incorrect commentary, they can contact Jon Mulvaney at email@example.com about getting a replacement disc.
No upgrades in supplements (unless you want to count the fact that the DVD, as of now, comes with the commentary for Riot in Cell Block 11 in place of Peña’s track.) When taken at face value it doesn’t look like there’s a lot on here, but taken together the supplements manage to offer a better examination of Antonioni’s unique style over some of Criterion’s other releases for the director’s films. The transfers on both the DVD and Blu-ray also offer a nice improvement over the previous DVD, correcting some source issues on the old edition, like the flickering and pulsating, and some of the more egregious marks. The Blu-ray also offers a noticeably sharper image. This release comes highly recommended.