The Eclipse (October 1975)
Thirteen years ago, The Eclipse appeared as the film that would complete the existential discourse that began with L’avventura and was followed by La notte. Their common theme was alienation and the crisis of emotions within a bourgeois context. The Eclipse ended with the total silence of the human voice, with man reduced to a simple object. How would you represent middle class man today? The same way you represented him then or would you give him a different destiny?
I would say that the bourgeoisie of that time was quite different from the one of today. From what it’s possible to understand – from things that happen every once in a while, most of all in Italy – it seems to me that the middle-class is very much involved in social and political life in order to defend its privileges, but also because of an internal corruption, which will eventually bring the middle-class, I believe, to its extinction. Society is proceeding along certain channels where it’s difficult to find a way out. I am neither a sociologist nor a politician, but it seems to me that – not only in Italy, but throughout the world – we are moving toward a certain type of society. The middle-class is showing signs of deterioration with its “angry” reaction to the leveling-out that is taking place in society. Therefore, if I had to make The Eclipse today, I would be even harder on them, more violent.
In the film I directed thirteen years ago, there are signs of violence that are connected with money. Today it would be even more so. It probably would no longer be connected with the Stock Exchange, because the Stock Exchange – although it still survives-already shows signs of its ineffectiveness. Probably – but I am not sure of it – the society of tomorrow will no longer have a need for the Stock Exchange. The changes in the price of gold, of the dollar, of the lira, the “monetary serpent” and all of these things so difficult to follow (I studied finance when I was at the University and it was so abstruse that I had to strive hard to pass the exams) are manifestations of mechanisms that are getting more and more “rusty.” I could be mistaken, but on the outside, to a non expert like me, that’s how things look. And yet the survival of the middle class is tied to these mechanisms. I am not making a political statement, nor am I speaking as an economist of the left would. I am speaking as a fIlmmaker, as someone who is used to looking at reality, to drawing certain conclusions from events, from facts, from feelings. I would say that The Eclipse is still a modern film in that its protagonists are people who do not believe in feelings – that is, they limit them to certain things.
The Eclipse concluded a certain discourse, but at the same time opened up another one, which you then investigated further in Red Desert. We are referring to a certain type of social and class criticism within an Italian context. Why, after Red Desert is your cinema no longer focusing on Italian society?
Because it seems to me that all I had to show of Italian society I have already shown. Already with Red Desert I had slightly broadened the subject-matter. It was one of the first films (and here in Italy, undoubtedly the first) to deal with ecology. Ecology began to be discussed after 1964, when the pollution of the waters, the destruction of the forests, etc., were quite advanced. With Red Desert I already started to bring national issues into an international context. Then I left, because I felt that my “cinematic clothes” were becoming a bit too tight. Besides, it was impossible to situate the photographer of Blow-Up in Italy at that time. After Blow Up, I felt I was being drawn outside of my country. I did not have the desire to return and film here.
In the future, will you return and film in Italy?
I would like to make a film in Italy now. However, I find myself faced with a conflict. To avoid certain topics (the same ones I mentioned answering your first question) would seem to me to betray the situation here, and to be untrue to myself, because these are topics I’m sensitive to, topics I would like to deal with. At the same time, I understand that it is not possible to search in as much depth as I would like to, because there are too many things that are hidden, too many things that one can’t understand. I cannot speak of them because I do not have a direct knowledge of them. I would say that, after all, everything here is happening behind the scenes. What do I know of what happens with the Mafia? It seems to me very evident that the Mafia is involved with the kidnappings that are going on nowadays. And it seems even more evident that nothing is done against the Mafia, even with an anti-Mafia commission that has been working for the past fifteen years, and whose activities are hardly known. Now, whose interest is it to keep it hidden? Which political ties are there, behind the Mafia? I do not like to deal with topics that remain so mysterious. I would have to search in depth, and who would allow me to do so? On the other hand, when we talk about kidnapping, we don’t talk about unusual things.
I am trying to move from my house in Rome because it is too small. The other day, I saw that the owner of the building, under construction, where I am supposed to move soon had a gun in his coat. I asked him why, and he told me: “Right below here is where [the industrialist] Danesi was kidnapped.” I saw [the jeweler] Bulgari: he, too, walks around with a gun. He is right. What should he do? Kidnapping has becomes an issue that touches us personally, and we find ourselves faced with it – in the guise of sons and daughters of kidnapped parents, of big guns, and so on. But how can one talk about these things? I would have to touch upon them lightly, in a newspaper fashion; but that’s not enough for me. On the other hand, this situation is taken for granted outside of Italy. For them, everything that happens in Italy is of no importance. In case I decided to make a film about this, it would be a film of purely national interest, without any international appeal. I am torn between the desire to make a film here in Italy in order to find my roots, and the awareness of not being able to make the film that should be made.
The Eclipse contains some sequences commonly cited as “required viewing. ” The ending is a sample of pure and almost abstract cinema; but there is also the Stock Exchange sequence, an hallucinatory synthesis of the madness produced by the greed for money. Do you remember where the idea for that sequence came from?
I happened to meet women who played the stock market, like the mother of Monica Vitti’s character, and they seemed to be characters so odd that I felt drawn to them. So I started to investigate the matter a little further. I asked for a pass to enter the Stock Exchange and I was given one. For fifteen, twenty days I went there (I even speculated a little; I bought some shares and then resold them, miraculously earning a little money – very little, indeed) and I understood that it was an extraordinary setting, even from a visual point of view. A bit like the gestures that the men in white gloves made at the dog races in the English episode of The Vanquished. I do not know how they understand each other in the Stock Exchange, as they operate with such quick gestures. It is a special kind of language, which is based – and that was what really interested me – upon honesty. The stockbrokers have to be honest with each other. “With this gesture I purchased three thousand Montedison shares, and you have to give them to me. At precisely that price.” There is nothing to do about it. If someone cheats, he will no longer work in the Stock Exchange.
A bit like the Mafia’s honesty
Well – I tried to reconstruct that environment employing all of the people that worked at the Stock Exchange: operators, brokers, bankers, and others. Very few extras. All people who knew how to move there. I gave [Alain] Delon a model to follow – a certain Paolo Vassallo who, curiously enough, was then involved in a kidnapping. He worked in the Stock Exchange helping his father. Delon went to the Stock Exchange to study Paolo Vassallo: what he did, how he moved.
If we recall correctly, The Eclipse had a surprising success in different parts if the world, especially in Japan. In Italy, however, despite the consensus of the critics, it never became too popular. Do you think that the public, now, has become mature enough to grasp the meaning of the film?
The success of The Eclipse in Japan is explained by the very slow rhythm of the film, broken only now and then by “outbursts,” such as the Stock Exchange sequences. The Japanese liked that a lot, and they already knew and loved Delon and Monica Vitti. Keep in mind, also, that the film “opens” with a song by Mina (Anna Maria Mazzinihas has been one of Italy’s most popular singers for the past four decades).
In Italy, I do not think that the public has changed to the point of being able not only to “appreciate” the film, but also to “follow” its rhythm – which, by the way, I would not give any film today. I have become a little detached from its subject matter, and also from this type of cinema, based on a relationship between two types of people who no longer exist today. The girl is from Rome, deeply bourgeois, and therefore – how can I say it? – a bit a victim of certain moral principles. Therefore she is a little scared to let herself into that relationship. Nowadays, perhaps, this type of reticence would not exist. The conclusion of the relationship could be the same, but the relationship would probably be different. It would develop in a more candid and less reticent manner; with less modesty, I would say; with fewer drawbacks.
Was it difficult for you to make a film of this kind – of a “different” kind. Did you have difficulties with the producers? Or, after L’avventura and La notte, was everything fine?
Before Blow-Up I never had an important commercial success. It started with Blow-Up, which earned a lot money and opened many doors for me. The producers cut the ending of The Eclipse. In the theaters it was shown with several cuts. In the version shown on TV, the ending should be the original one – at least I hope so.
But the reputation that you already had outside of Italy must have already contributed to give you credit with the producers. For example in France.
Yes, in France, L’avventura did very well at the box office. Also La notte. Anyway – here is a curious thing – I wanted to make two films of The Eclipse, one from the point of view of the woman [played by Vitti], and one from the stockbroker’s. The producers instead would only allow one film. I think that it would have been interesting to make a film from his point of view, because it would have shown the world of money,where feelings have hardly any place.
There are directors who feel (or pretend to feel) almost a sense of repulsion when faced with some oftheir works. What is now your state of mind, your attitude toward The Eclipse?
I will not watch The Eclipse again on TV because I never look back, I always look ahead. Because of this, I never make period films, and I do not make films about historical characters. Fellini knows how to do this very well. He can talk of himself, he can relate events dealing with his childhood, he can take historical figures like Casanova and manipulate them in his own way. I do not think that I would be capable of doing that.
You were given the label of the “alienation director.” Did you appreciate this definition, or did you find it limiting? Limiting in the sense that it did not correspond to the truth and that there were other themes, other arrows in your bow?
I do not really understand what this label means because there are quite a few types of alienation: there is Freud’s, Hegel’s, Marx’s – there are so many! Everybody talks about alienation, but in a different way. I don’t know what kind of alienation mine is. I don’t want to delve into it, because I can’t give an objective critical evaluation of what I do with my films. Certainly, I have been interested for a long time in the so-called alienated relationship between human beings. But not as a type of alienation, but rather as a type of story that I can find all the time in the real world around me.
Dario Fo, (Actor, stage director, and playwright, Dario Fo is one of Italy’s best known theater personality. His four-decade career, based on an original research on comic languages and gestuality, has often been devoted to expressing strong, and dissenting, political views.) on his recent return from China, expressed a negative opinion on your documentary on China. What would reply to him?
For me, this controversy is closed. I just don’t feel like going on with it. I would like only to add one point with regard to Joris Ivens, whom Fo mentions. He states that Ivens’s documentary on China [How Yukong Moved the Montains] has enlightened him on the realities of that country. If Fo takes a camera and walks through the streets of Peking and through the countryside where I have been, and shoots whatever he sees, what he gets will be the film I made. If instead, he plans everything from A to Z, very meticulously, what he gets will be Ivens’s film. They are two different films. I did not want to make Ivens’s kind of film; I wanted to make the film that I made. By the way, Ivens could not have acted differently, because, unfortunately, he had lost his sight.
From Conine della Sera, 15 October 1975.