V. WHO’S WHO? WHERE’S WHERE? WHAT’S WHAT?
It was at Rome, during the Carnival that I attended a masquerade in the palazzo of the Neapolitan Duke Di Broglio. . . And again, and again, in secret communion with my own spirit, would I demand the questions ‘Who is he?--whence came he?--and what are his objects?’ But no answer was there found.
Edgar Allan Poe
Related to the motif of one character transforming into another is the repetitive appearance in L'eclisse of strangers, a kind of metaphysical peek-a-boo. Who, for example, is Franco? Early in the film, Vittoria telephones “Franco,” asking him to watch over Riccardo. Later, Piero in his office refers to “Franco” who, again, remains ultimately unidentified. The film offers no evidence to suggest--or reason to believe--that Franco #1 and Franco #2 are the same person, or are they? (In the screenplay contained in Lane’s book on L'eclisse--a screenplay which differs significantly from the final film--“Franco” is the name of Marta’s husband.) An analogous mystery in The Passenger concerns the identity of “Daisy,” a person with whom David Robertson has several appointments, but whose identity is never revealed. Identity is so elusive in The Passenger that a central protagonist, the Girl, is not even given a name (Unless it is “Daisy,” something I discuss in Endnote #19). This is also the state of affairs for the characters played by David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave in Blow-Up, or “Mark and Daria” of Zabriskie Point.*
People suddenly pop up out of nowhere, appear, disappear, are never identified, play no obvious role in narrative continuity. (One is reminded of the cryptic, recurrent appearance of the Man in the Mackintosh in Joyce’s Ulysses. The penultimate episode of Ulysses also has a celestial resonance with L'eclisse. Has not Antonioni also spoken to us of the lethargy of nescient matter: the apathy of the stars?) Examples that have already been mentioned include both the Drunkard and the woman in the window across from the apartment of Piero’s parents (also functioning as a mirror image). Some of these transients reappear in the coda of the film, such as the jockey or the nursemaid. The camera may linger upon them in a lazy manner, inviting us to question their identity, their importance, their existence. At the Verona airport--a hole in time, a true suspension of cinematic momentum, temps mort as described by Chatman--we watch Vittoria watching others . . . and as Antonioni shows us the objects of her regard, we are invited to gaze upon them as well. Two seemingly incongruous black men sitting on a bench, a man lounging at a bar with a beer eying Vittoria, two white men conversing at an outside table, suddenly become the center of the camera’s attention. If one strains one’s ear and eavesdrops on the faint conversation of these two Americans, one hears one of the men saying to the other, “We’re the center of attraction . . .” a typically small but meaningful, little joke on Antonioni’s part. Centrifugal force in Antonioni’s films is such that the center of attention seems to be routinely drawn out of orbit to be propelled like Anna of L’avventura to God knows where. The very ending of L'eclisse with its image of a luminous orb may be seen as an embrace of Copernicus, men and women cast outward to the third planet from the Sun. Rifkin (p. 148) goes so far as to say that in The Passenger, Locke is not the true subject of the film. May one likewise say that the main characters of L'eclisse are not Vittoria and Piero, but a broken stick and matchbook, the Remains of a Day?
The black men—“The Two Gentlemen of Verona”—are of particular interest (The black men have their typical Antonionian counterpart or mirror in the two white American men conversing in American-accented English in the patio outside the airport bar). Antonioni’s camera gazes lazily upon these two men, the back of Vittoria’s head in the foreground. Their incongruity or digressive nature is lessened when we remember that the scene at the Verona airport follows on the heels of the African adventure at Marta’s apartment. Africa has “bled” outside the confines of Marta’s apartment into Northern Italy, just as Marta’s Kenyan farm has failed to be contained within the photograph on the wall of her apartment, but is instead located under Vittoria’s finger on the white wall to screen-left of the photo (vide ante). In this context the two black men plastered against a white wall provoke a complex reverberation of thematic concerns. Once again, we confront the Antonionian preoccupations with repetition and mirror images.* We must remember that there were photographs of native African tribes plastered on the walls of Marta’s apartment. When Vittoria puts on blackface and African garb in Marta’s apartment, Anita holds up such a photograph of a real African woman next to Vittoria’s head, asking Marta if there is a resemblance. It is Vittoria who replies, “Identica!” Thus, there is an equivalence between Vittoria disguised as African woman and the photograph of an African woman. Reification. Metamorphosis. Adumbration also operates insofar as the scene in Marta’s apartment foreshadows the later appearance of the “African scene” at the Verona airport. Likewise, as Vittoria pauses in front of the two black men, presenting only the back of her mind to us, we can imagine that she is thinking back to the previous scene in Marta’s apartment. The two men also resemble objects--that is to say, photographs--in the manner in which they are placed against the white, outside wall of the airport lounge, which, thus, resembles a gallery. In one sense, we have never really left Marta’s apartment, for the airport wall with its portrait of black men is also the apartment wall with its portrait of black men. A further, provocative way of viewing this scene is to think of a black and white photographic negative: Vittoria in the Africa of Marta’s apartment is the negative of Africans in Verona.*
The African motif and image of an African woman will reappear one last time towards the very conclusion of L'eclisse. In the final moments shared by Vittoria and Piero in the broker’s office, a buzzer rings. Vittoria and Piero dress, Vittoria placing a chain around her neck, Piero performing the analogous act of putting a tie, or if you will, a noose around his neck. As they head towards the front door of the office where they will share their final embrace--an embrace without a kiss or the utterance of a goodbye--they pass a small statuette of an apparent African woman, one that resembles the photographs of African women with headdress adorning the walls of Marta’s apartment. This small token of a woman, one perhaps made of wood, reunites simultaneously several themes that have operated throughout the film: an African woman is reified into an inanimate object; the image of an African woman is doubled, reoccurs, incessantly reappears; human beings are shrunken, to the size of a small statuette or to the dimension of a miniature woman trapped inside a pen.
Already alluded to is the photograph of Vittoria’s father dressed in the Italian military uniform of the Ethiopian campaign. This, too, constitutes a costume, albeit in sharp contrast to that of Vittoria. Whereas Vittoria is attempting to identify with Africa, to be an African, her father’s travesty at best concerns the adaptation of a role as a conqueror of Africa, at worst that of a thief or rapist camouflaged as a soldier in a shameful chapter of modern Italian history. Vittoria’s father was not, however, the first Italian to invade Africa. In the First Punic War Rome invaded Carthage in 256/255 B.C.E. and suffered a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Tunis. Much of the surviving Roman fleet was subsequently destroyed by a violent storm on their return home. Some 2,000 years later the Italian Army fared little better in the First Italo-Ethiopian War with a catastrophic defeat at Adua (“The casualty rate suffered by Italian forces at the Battle of Adowa [Adua] was greater than any other major European battle of the 19th century, beyond even the Napoleonic Era’s infamous Waterloo and Eylau.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Italo%E2%80%93Ethiopian_War retrieved 5 May 2009]). Mussolini would later in the 20th century forget the famous observation by Santayana that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and start the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. (Antonioni, himself, traveled as a journalist to the Italian colonies of Africa in 1939; see Cardullo and his chronology of Antonioni’s life in Michelangelo Antonioni: Interviews; available as of 3 April 2009 at: <http://books.google.com/books?id=5PIfqF7BP9wC&printsec=frontcover#PPR23,M1>). When one considers how carefully Antonioni had already defined the differences between mother and daughter--and, now, between father and daughter--one might say that Vittoria is not her parent’s daughter (as opposed to Piero, who still seems to be living part time at his parent’s home and who prefers the funereal abode of his parent’s apartment as the place to seduce Vittoria rather than his own apartment). Like Mavi in Identificazione di una donna, Vittoria’s namesake (“Mavi,” an abbreviation for “Maria Vittoria”), Vittoria might have questions regarding her own paternity.
Vittoria’s masquerade as an African woman occurs abruptly, unexpectedly, appearing as if out of nowhere. There is the sense that the African scene is so discrepant and parenthetical that it represents “a play within the play,” a kind of meta-theatre resembling in some curious manner a Japanese Noh or Kabuki drama à la Africana-Italiana (such Japanese drama commonly concerned with the themes of the double suicide of lovers, the inexorable passage of time, ephemera, and loss). There is an odd, self-reflexive quality to Vittoria’s “performance,” making us wonder why an otherwise generally demure translator would suddenly engage in such a dramatic, histrionic, and “out-of-place” performance. Indeed, the bedroom of Marta’s apartment that is flanked by two black, thatched “stage wings” resembles a proscenium upon which Vittoria puts on her vaudevillian act. Nothing thus far in L'eclisse has prepared us for the exuberance and playfulness of this scene, one that is 180 degrees opposed to the deathlike stillness of the opening scene of the film. Although the scene has comic elements, it is not sexualized as is the dance of the “real” black woman in the nightclub episode of La notte. (Although Piero regards Vittoria as a sex object, Antonioni is careful to not present Vittoria as a highly charged, erotic character.) The scene of Vittoria adopting the skin of an African woman is so peculiar and hysterical that Marta--visibly uncomfortable with the charade--demands that it stop. (Pincus notes that the two black men “with their calm presence . . . contrast with the tribal hysterics of Vittoria the night before”). One of the more important Antonionian motifs of this scene is that of evasion, flight, escape. As Chatman has written in his book on Antonioni (p. 60): “The theme of escape appears in some form in virtually every one of Antonioni’s films, even his first. In Gente del Po (“People of the Po [River]”), a woman working in the fields watches a barge pass down the river, and the voice-over reads her mind: ‘She thinks perhaps of happiness. To leave, to travel, to change her life. The sea is there, at the end of the trip.’ ” In 1942, however, the year prior to shooting Gente del Po, Antonioni worked as a co-screenwriter on Rossellini’s Un pilota ritorna (“A Pilot Returns”), a film literally concerned with “escape.” (“[The film received the] first-place award in 1942 at the international film competition sponsored by the GIL [Gioventù Italiana del Littorio], the youth organization of the Fascist Party.” [Re-viewing Fascism. Reich, Jacqueline and Garofalo, Piero. Editors. P. 89].) This was Antonioni’s first significant involvement with a major studio film, as opposed to his early 1943 involvement with Gente del Po which was a short documentary. Un pilota ritorna—a fascist propaganda film conceived by Mussolini’s own son, Vittorio (a man whose refinement was such that he described bombs as “budding roses” and killing as “exceptionally good fun”)—was made while Antonioni was himself still a non-commissioned officer in the Italian Army.  The film recounts the story of an Italian bomber pilot played by Massimo Girotti (later to star in 1950 in Antonioni’s debut as director of a feature film, Cronaca di un amore) who is shot down behind enemy lines on a bombing run over Greece and captured by English and Greek soldiers.  (The contemporaneous British equivalent of Un pilota ritorna would be Powell and Pressburger’s early successful film of 1942, One of Our Aircraft Is Missing.) For a brief biographical account of Antonioni’s war years see Biarrese and Tassone, where Antonioni is quoted—by the authors themselves—as speaking of “the not entirely negative aspects” of his service as a “telegrafista” in the signal corps of the Italian army under Mussolini.43
Un pilota ritorna is a heroic account of the pilot’s extraordinary if hardly credible escape: the pilot, like Mark in Zabriskie Point, steals a plane—a British fighter Hawker Hurricane—and flies back to Italy. The film is unusual when compared to other films in Antonioni’s canon insofar as the pilot escapes in order to return home. Generally, Antonioni is concerned with purchasing a one-way ticket from one’s birthplace straight to nowhere, as opposed to the classic theme of the more conventional cinema: the desire to return from Troy to Ithaca, from Oz to Kansas. Vittoria’s flight to Verona, the other principal moment of carefree abandon that Vittoria experiences in L'eclisse, is also linked to evasion and a literal flight. At the Hawthorne Airport in Southern California in Zabriskie Point, the camera holds on a large United Airlines billboard of the Statue of Liberty; the title of the billboard is: “United to New York. Let’s get away from it all.” (“Let’s Get Away from it All,” the title of a 1941 song popularized by Frank Sinatra while still singing with the Tommy Dorsey band.)
Riccardo in his apartment in the Eur wearing his funny fungo hat
(See blue footnote, chapter 2: “Piero's solar plexus”)
Indeed the flight from Los Angeles to Zabriskie Point is symmetrical with that of Rome to Verona. For Vittoria, Verona is Zabriskie Point, both places adjoining boroughs in Arcadia. In The Passenger, the desire to escape becomes so all consuming that it is not just a place that one wishes to leave behind, but a life.* (The Passenger was based on a story by Mark Peploe entitled “Fatal Exit.”) The issue of “escape” in Antonioni’s films is not related to “escapism,” the desire of an audience to seek out, for example, a summer page-turning beach read or a film that is easy on the mind that permits the audience to seek refuge for several hours in a cinematic alternative world other than their own. Antonioni’s films are for many viewers the opposite of such escapist entertainment films. If anything, many viewers find his films so inhospitable that they wish to flee from the cinema. It is the characters in Antonioni’s films who so often wish to escape, at Antonioni’s behest. Viewers who yearn for escapist entertainment do not wish to see movies concerning characters who are trapped.*
We have already seen how Antonioni’s camera obsessively, repetitively focuses its attention on people or things for no apparent reason. These objects of regard assume the status or role of nameless, unidentified characters. Again, at the Verona airport, the camera follows the movements of an unidentified plane for no apparent aesthetic or other reason. While listening in the neighborhood of the Palazzo dello Sport to the clanging poles, Vittoria finds herself standing beneath a new character, both an object and a person, a large statue atop a concrete plinth with indecipherable graffiti, of either an unidentified human being, mythological creature, or god. (The 1964 screenplay [Sei Film] identifies the statue as that of a “woman.” I have considered, however, whether the statue is, instead, one of Zeus, given that the Palazzo dello Sport was a venue for the 1960 Olympics and that in the religious belief system of the ancient Greeks, Zeus was the patron of the Olympics where at Olympia in antiquity was his famous statue and temple. The possible playful association is further strengthened by the somewhat curious name of Marta’s dog, Zeus. If you are alone, then this is a malady sent by almighty Zeus, from which there is no escape. [Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Walter Shewring.] Jean-François Lejeune identifies the statue as the god, Pan [see Delli Colli, Laura. EUR é cinema, p. 50]; however, the statue does not exhibit the caprine features with characteristic hindquarters, legs, and horns resembling a faun often depicted in statuary of Pan. I have personally never been able to locate the statue and, therefore, cannot identify it with certainty.) Within minutes of the opening of the film, the first spectral figure to appear is that of a young boy who intrusively crosses the path of Riccardo and Vittoria as they walk in the otherwise empty streets of the Eur. (The boy is wearing a striped shirt which chimes with the passaggio zebrato [“pedestrian black-and-white zebra stripes”] of the intersection of the contruction building that Vittoria and Piero are one day fated, like the Acheron, to cross.)
Children . . . everywhere
Children are everywhere in Antonioni’s films: the unidentified, young boy walking towards the camera at the train station of Milazzo in L’avventura, approaching us, and kicking some object for no apparent reason; the boy is apparently not a professional actor, for like other occasional children in film, he cannot resist the temptation to break the rules and glance at the forbidden camera. Later--again at the blasted heath of the Eur intersection--the anonymous, blond man who Vittoria remarks has a beautiful face, intersects the path of Vittoria and Piero. There is a detached, clinical quality to Vittoria’s description of the man’s beauty; as opposed to a judgment that Piero might make, Vittoria’s observation is aesthetic, not carnal. (There may be a kind of “protofeminism” in Antonioni’s elaboration of the shot of Vittoria stopping dead in her tracks staring for some obscure reason at the blond man; it is, after all, the more conventional Hollywood dictum that it is the woman who was made to be looked at, but forbidden to herself look.) It is no accident that immediately following Vittoria’s admiring regard of the blond man Piero ogles the nursemaid who passes by. In the final scene between Vittoria and Piero, Piero asks Vittoria if she remembers “the couple by the bench” that they had both seen the other day (“Senti, ti ricordi quei due l’altro giorno sulla panchina?”) Although no verbal answer is given, a non-verbal response is offered by Vittoria as she begins to pantomime in comic fashion the expressions of this other unnamed couple.* On several occasions, we are shown clergy coming and going, both near and far (echoing similar scenes in other films by Antonioni such as in L’avventura when a procession of seminarians dressed in their black cassocks flow like spilt, black ink before the Chiesa di S. Nicolò in the Sicilian town of Noto. Or the striking and discrepant image seen early in Blow-Up of two black nuns in white habit seen walking on a London street). In L'eclisse, a young priest briefly cuts right across the cinematic path of Piero on the street abutting his office building after his meeting with the Bestiola. When Vittoria first opens the shutters in the apartment of Piero’s parents, she sees two nuns in black habit crossing the piazza, again a kind of photographic negative of the black nuns in white of Blow-Up. At the end of Vittoria and Piero’s second meeting by the Eur water barrel, a priest passes by conspicuously in the background. A jockey trots across the screen twice in the film, reminiscent of the mysterious camel and driver who cross David Locke’s path in the desert of The Passenger. Towards the conclusion of L'eclisse, as Vittoria exits from the stairwell of Piero’s office building, we see in the background a mother and small daughter framed by a door, hand in hand, as they cross the street. Is this the same mother and daughter that we had seen earlier in the Piazza di Pietra when Vittoria exits from the stock market in her first scene at the Borsa? Or more metaphysically and less prosaically, is this Vittoria and her mother? And at the conclusion of L'eclisse--day’s end at ground zero, or as you may like it, the mere oblivion of the seventh age of Man--there is the enigmatic old man of the coda, who we see peering out at an image that Antonioni, this time, does not show us (except in the reflected image cast in a ghostly manner on the lens of the old man’s eyeglasses), glasses that are not required to focus on the Void. No one. Nowhere. Nothing.*
Perhaps the most opaque and mysterious remark of L'eclisse is made by Vittoria towards the very end of the film, a remark that could excite a spasm of exegesis in a critic. In response to a half-hearted marriage proposal by Piero, Vittoria responds that she doesn’t “miss” being married (“Io non ho nostalgia per il matrimonio.” [An odd remark reminiscent of other odd remarks in L’eclisse and in many of Antonioni’s films such as Piero’s assertion to Vittoria when they first meet in the Borsa that “Tu non mi conosci, ma io sì.” / “I know you, but you don’t know me.” Vide Endnote #22]).* Piero quite reasonably responds that “How can you miss marriage when you’ve never been married.” (“Che c’entra la nostalgia? Non sei mica stata sposata.”). A simple solution to this puzzling exchange might be that Vittoria regarded her relationship with Riccardo as a kind of marriage. Another possibility is that Vittoria was married previously, but that the film offers no further exposition on this point. (As already mentioned, we know very few of the specific biographical details of Vittoria or of the other characters in the film.) Because Vittoria wears a ring on the fourth digit of her left hand (Piero does not), one might ask whether Vittoria is presently married to a character that is never identified (Franco?), who in some mysterious sense stands outside the film itself (raising the issue as to whether adultery--as is usually present in an Antonioni film--is characteristically present in L'eclisse). Perhaps, Vittoria simply means, “I don’t regret the fact that I’ve never married,” although this interpretation seems at odds with the meaning of “nostalgia” in Italian and also conflicts with Piero’s consternation at her remark. Another possibility is that Antonioni is simply being coy, and is enjoying teasing his audience with incertitude, inviting wide open speculation. My own sense is that this isn’t Antonioni’s style, tantalizing for the mere sake of tantalizing (although, Antonioni has written elsewhere in a different context that “Any explanation would be less interesting than the mystery itself.”). The remark, however nude as it may appear, is not coming from out of nowhere. It is finally Antonioni, and not Vittoria, who is speaking directly to us, asking us to attend. What do we know about Vittoria based on evidence in the film itself that might explain her remark? Groping with this question, I find myself returning to those images of Vittoria peering at trees, especially the final, haunting vision of Vittoria after she has finally left Piero, standing on the sidewalk at the spot where the Bestiola stood before her, peering up at first into a solid wall of trees. As Scottie says to Madeleine in Vertigo of the towering trees of Big Basin Redwoods State Park near Boulder Creek, California: “Their true name is Sequoia sempervirens—always green, ever living.” Such trees will outlive Vittoria and Piero’s relationship which—all promises of undying love they make aside—is scheduled to end that evening at 8 pm. Vittoria then turns around to glance up in the direction of Piero’s office above her, and then looking down towards the camera actually poised below her, Vittoria briefly gazes down from the movie screen upon we the audience below.25 Look in the mirror and wonder whether it is true that we all have a double life. Does anybody know who anybody is? Who is Vittoria? How well do we really know her? What other incarnations, which other lives has she lived? Who then, was she married to, before?*
Goodbye . . .
Peculiar, riddle-like utterances occur so routinely in L'eclisse that one wonders whether a world is being portrayed in which the unusual is usual, the abnormal, normal. I have already discussed the strange conversation between Vittoria and Piero in Vittoria’s mother’s apartment (when Vittoria seems to suggest that she--like most of us--has become smaller with age). There is also the strange conversation in Marta’s apartment as Vittoria is analyzing the photographs of Africa that adorn the apartment walls. Marta informs Vittoria that her Kenyan home is on the left of the photo. Vittoria then points to an absolutely empty spot on the photo, devoid of any buildings, and asks, “Here?” Marta then responds that the house is even more to the left as Vittoria then moves her hand to the left of the photo itself to a blank spot on the white wall. It is some 13 years later, in the London of Blow-Up that language appears to completely break down, conversation becoming the articulation of the non sequitur. People move their mouths and sounds issue forth, none of which seems to make sense. In particular, the Hemmings-Photographer character of Blow-Up seems, like Vittoria, to present conflicting evidence as to whether he is married or not. When, for example, the Hemmings character is in his studio with the mysterious Redgrave character, the phone rings. He picks up the phone, speaks briefly, and then turns to the Redgrave character explaining, “It’s my wife.” Seconds later, language cancels itself out when the Hemmings character states:
She isn’t my wife really. We just have some kids . . . . No . . . . No kids. Not even kids. Sometimes, though it . . . it feels as if we had kids.
By 1968, the art of conversation hasn’t gotten any more sensible across the pond in Zabriskie Point. Lee Allen, the real estate magnate played by Rod Taylor, phones the apartment of the young hippie woman, Daria, who likes to smoke grass. A disembodied person who is never identified (Franco?) picks up the phone in Daria’s apartment and begins the conversation by saying, “Goodbye,” later ending the conversation by saying “Hello.” A Cheshire cat might as well be grinning in one of two nearby Southern California trees, suddenly speaking jabberwocky:
“I wish you wouldn’t keep appearing and vanishing so suddenly; you make one quite giddy!”
“All right,” said the Cat, and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.
“Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,” thought Alice; “But a grin without a cat. It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!”
In L'eclisse as Riccardo says his final goodbye to Vittoria, language again cancels itself out even as it is spoken:
Riccardo to Vittoria outside her apartment at 307 Viale dell’Umanesimo:
Arrivederci . . . . Anzi, no. Niente arrivederci, ci telefoniamo. Cioè, no. Non ci telefoniamo. (Goodbye . . . no, no good-byes, we’ll telephone each other. No, not that either. We won’t telephone each other.)
The dialog in many of Antonioni’s film might be described as gobbledegook, mumbo jumbo, or “walla walla” (the nonsensical speech that extras in film mumble in the background to give the appearance of true speech). One Italian blog quotes Dino Risi as once saying: “Antonioni ha inventato l'incomunicabilità perché non sa scrivere dialoghi cinematografici.” / “Antonioni invented ‘incommunicability’ because he doesn’t know how to write dialog.” (Citation not referenced.) http://it.answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=AoJdGPW8tQwlUmLEE8eoKrEZDgx.;_ylv=3?qid=20090228035343AA4RCXG [Retrieved 8 April 2009; site in Italian].
In the exercise in formalism that constitutes the opening scene of L'eclisse--Vittoria’s break-up with Riccardo--there is very little language (The opening scene of Zabriskie Point depicting the students engaged in the rhetoric of revolution is, instead, nothing but talk-talk-talk. The dialogue of the opening scenes of both films is alike, however, in that they both may be translated as adding up to nothing.) By the time we arrive at the coda to L'eclisse, language--together with the main characters of the film--is abolished entirely (Vittoria’s existence--which has been annulled--had been particularly concerned with language. She was a translator.) Insert shots such as the headlines of newspapers, “LA GARA ATOMICA,” resemble the caption cards (intertitles) of silent film, mute movies that as I have already noted were highly regarded by Hitchcock as “pure cinema.”*
In The Passenger, Locke cannot even speak--or speak well--the language of three of the four countries he finds himself in: Chad, Germany, and Spain. Presumably, Locke has been in France as well; Antonioni in a truly grand, geographical ellipsis eliminates an entire country insofar as Locke has presumably driven from Germany to Spain by the obligatory crossing (“out”) of France. We have also heard snippets of Locke’s poor French--Franglais/Frenglish--while he was in Chad. Likewise, we hear a comical mashup of Italian and Spanish while Locke is in the lobby of the Pedrera in Barcelona asking a Spanish man if he has seen a girl resembling the Girl (“ . . . una muchacha alta così.”) As Rifkin notes in Antonioni’s Visual Language (p. 189, note #27), “ . . . at the outset of the film [Locke] demonstrates a complete inability to communicate with the Africans who simply snapped their fingers and signaled with their hands, demanding cigarettes from the hapless Locke.” Locke is not merely “lost in translation,” but an existential expatriate in every land and identity he finds himself inhabiting. Even his nationality is jumbled insofar as he is a hybrid American Englishman/English American, a “dual” citizen. In fact, he”ss twice the man you thought him to be. Or no one—Noman—at all.
“La historia agrega que, antes o después de morir, se supo frente a Dios y le dijo: Yo, que tantos hombres he sido en vano, quiero ser uno y yo. La voz de Dios le contestó desde un torbellino: Yo tampoco soy; yo soñé el mundo como tu soñaste tu obra, mi Shakespeare, y entre las formas de mi sueño estás tú, que como yo eres muchos y nadie.”
“Everything and Nothing”
Jorge Luis Borges
The quadruple whammy with the characters in Antonioni’s films is not only the impossibility of knowing who anybody really is, but even if you could, you couldn’t communicate with them regardless, and even if you could, you would have nothing to say, and finally, it wouldn’t matter anyway because everyone eventually dies or disappears in this way or that at the End.
All is lost, everything comes and goes, including the 1995 Honorary Lifetime Achievement Academy Award that Antonioni won (later to be stolen from his Rome apartment). A common question which people love to argue about is: “Where has Anna (of L'avventura) gone?” The answer to all of these questions is that she like everyone and everything else (except the Oscar, appropriately later replaced by a substitute “double”) has ultimately disappeared in the fog of Antonioni’s imagination, vanished in his mind. In the fog of the Pianura Padana.
Towards the end of Blow-Up when the Photographer finds himself in the pot party in Chelsea, he reencounters the model, Veruschka, whom he had earlier photographed, or--depending on one’s point of view--made love to in the beginning of the film. The Hemmings character remarks, “I thought you were supposed to be in Paris,” to which the model replies in a solipsistic manner, “I am in Paris.” What is peculiar is that so many of these senseless remarks seem to have some degree of sense that clings to them. (Although Antonioni is a director who is commonly regarded as placing more emphasis on the image rather than the word, both words and images are often equally ambiguous.) Vittoria is shrinking. Marta’s invisible Kenyan home, like the universe L'eclisse embodies, is part of a disappearing act. Vittoria is nostalgic about things that may never have happened. In the cannabis fog of a Chelsea night, or while smoking grass in Gower Gulch at Zabriskie Point, London is . . . Paris.*