Monica Vitti, Antonioni and Paris

This evening I went down to the "Champo", one of the cinemas on the Rue des Ecoles to see Antonioni's "L'Eclisse". I had been at the Accatone only a few weeks previously to see his previous film, "La Notte".

This is one thing I like very much about this city -- the cinemas. There are around 300 cinema screens in the centre of Paris, I've heard. It may well be the world centre of cinema. You can see almost anything at any time. I've watched Angelopolous' "Eternity and a day" at 11AM on a Sunday morning, or Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev" at 7pm on a Saturday night. It is not a question of "Where can I see film X" but rather "Which cinema do I want see film X in?" And then there are the particularities of the cinemas. At the "Accatone", it seems, they only have around 20 or so films (I exaggerate of course) which are continuously shown in rotation. At any time of any day there certainly showing a film from Pasolini or Fassbinder or Fellini. Probably right now whilst you are reading this.

But back to Mr. Antonioni. "L'Eclisse" is the last of the three films in the series which began with "L'Avventura" (which I have yet to see), and is followed by "La Notte". Mr. Antonioni's cities are strange places. Like in "La Nottte" large segments of film are shot in depopulated, empty spaces, full of long empty boulevards, streets open to the horizon. In "La Notte" all the open spaces are like this, filmed in post-war Milan, where it seems people don't relate to people but to buildings. In "L'Eclisse" we at least return to the centre of the city; many scenes take place in the stock market, brilliantly filmed chaotic scenes especially on the one bad day when the markets take a turn for the worse and a zillion lire are wiped off the share prices.

Monica Vitti wanders aimless though all of this, and responds to most questions with 'no lo so' (I don't know). Unable to decide where to go or who to be with, or maybe it is better be with a book than a man? (At one point she says it all the same to her). As in "La Notte" there are many scenes of elegantly dressed people wandering through scenes of unimaginable desolation and solitude, devoid of any other living forms. Antonioni always likes to go for the long shot, to show us the great space around each person.

The ending of course is inconclusive. Mme. Vitti is bored by her putative stockbroker boyfriend, but can not quite bring herself to just walk way, instead she lingers, hesitates. Antonioni captures very well how claustrophobic it can be to be in a room with someone you don't want to be in a room with, all heavy silences, long pauses. We see the apartment of the boyfriend, really his parent's apartment, and it is all heavy wood paneling, oil paintings and old ghosts staring down from the walls. You should really go but - out there are the plains, the empty spaces. And this is what he finishes the film with -- the buildings of Rome's EUR district, the hard cold lines of modernism. Unmoving. One scene follows another and then-- it is night, and the film ends.

Whew! After all that I left the cinema to discover I was the Last Man Alive. Walking down the Rue St. Jacques towards my apartment I saw that Paris was empty! It was a Saturday evening at 9pm but I saw no-one in the restaurants I walked past, no cars on the street, the only people I met seemed to be tourists and strangely enough even the tour buses I saw were empty! I soon realised all of this is because it is a long holiday weekend and all the Parisians have left the city, gone south or north. I thought of Mme. Vitti stumbling through EUR-Roma as I crossed the rue Soufflot and looked at all the empty chairs in the brasseries. The buildings here in Paris may not be as in Rome, but the human condition, alas, remains the same.