The finale of Antonioni’s trilogy of alienation (after “L’Avventura” and “La Notte”) remains a keeper, even if this set from the normally unassailable Criterion is not. Boldly presaging Tarkovsky and Kubrick with its stark, largely wordless images of Cold War foreboding, the film earned a Jury Prize at Cannes in 1962 and cemented the director’s reputation. It makes for essential viewing — especially given its prescient take on technology’s grip on modern humanity — but is hampered here by a mediocre transfer and uneven bonus materials.
Monica Vitti, in perhaps her finest screen turn, embodies the film’s misanthropic themes as Vittoria, a young woman incapable of connecting with either of two suitors. The most memorable hopeful is played by Alain Delon, whose excruciating near-misses with Vittoria play out against a backdrop of yawning Roman streets and soulless cityscape. Long, still shots of drain culverts, streetlamp bulbs and electric fans underscore the romantic ennui but also leave an apocalyptic impression. Rarely has one of the world’s most rapturous cities looked so vitiated, so robbed of conventional cinematic possibility.
Antonioni’s meticulous compositions are, regrettably, accompanied by a persistent flutter and grain. (The disc’s transfer derives from master positives — a less-than-pristine source.) It is less distracting in darker scenes, but much of the film takes place on a sunny day.
Italian docu “Michaelangelo Antonioni: The Eye That Changed Cinema” offers a maddeningly superficial tour through the decades. Ditto a largely dry commentary-cum-lecture by Richard Pena, the knowledgeable Lincoln Center film maven and Columbia U. prof.
The unusually robust booklet is worth some time, however. Along with new essays by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Gilberto Perez, it features excerpts from Antonioni’s own writings.
And don’t skip the 22-minute docu called “Elements of Landscape.” Its star is Italian critic Adriano Apra, who bursts with colorful and astute observations about Antonioni. “There’s the idea that the space around the characters is just as important as the characters themselves,” he says.
Addressing the film’s title, Antonio’s longtime friend, Carlo di Carlo, notes the director filmed an eclipse that occurred during the shoot but opted not to include it. Apra offers a more thought-provoking interpretation, calling the eclipse a tendency toward abstraction and emptiness “beyond the realistic images that we are used to seeing as spectators.”