Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Eclisse (The Eclipse) is the last part of his informal trilogy of eros, estrangement and alienation, that he made in the early sixties, that golden era of European art cinema. L'Avventura (which I have seen and absolutely adore) and Le Notte (which I haven't seen yet) respectively form the first and the second installment. They are all different stories and are united only thematically and the central character (played with inscrutable, totally European sensuality (don't ask me what it is!), by Monica Vitti). All of these three films explore the difficulties of human relationhips in modern urban life. How people drift into each other, prodded as they are by the loneliness and existential ennui, and finally how they drift apart once they realize the difficulty of sustaining any deeper connection for even a short period of time.

In L'Avventura, after a girl mysteriously disappears from a yachting trip on a distant volcanic island, her friend and her lover start searching for her all over Sicily and then, in the process fall in love only to realise how illusory and transient that feeling of connectedness was. L'Eclisse is very similar in terms of narrative structure, only it is visually even more daring, with almost abstract looking long shots completely bereft of dialogues or even background music for most of the film.

The film begins with the breakup of the relationship between Vittoria, who is a translator by profession, with Riccardo who is perhaps somekind of a writer or publisher. As I said earlier there is hardly any dialogue or any extra-diegetic sound for most of the film. The break-up between the two is shown in a purely visual manner by accentuating the distance between them by using unusual camera angles and framing. After the break-up Vittoria starts drifting on the roads of Rome which she continues to do pretty much for the entire film. She meets up the young and energetic stockbroker played by Alain Delon and starts a tentative affair with him. In the entire film Monica Vitti wears the same expression of the same mysterious sadness, perhaps borne of some deep and radical detachment from everything around her. Even when she is playing erotic games with the hero, her mind seems to be somewhere else plagued by some inexlicable sadness. But what is she thinking? She never tells us and we never get to know. Finally this affair, which was always tentative from the beginning, also comes to an end, when they both acknowledge how shallow it is and fail to turn up where they had to agreed to meet earlier.

The final scene, which lasts more than five minutes, is nothing short of brilliant. It is completely soundless and the characters with whom we spent the first more than two hours are nowhere to be seen. Instead Antonioni like an avant-garde documentary filmamker surveys the urban landscape of the streets of Rome, showing a man getting off a bus holding a newspaper with headlines informing about the nuclear age, or other abstract images like water trickling down from a barrel onto the starched ground or birds perched on geometrically aligned rooftops. It is difficult to understand what Antonioni wants to say in this final reel. Does he hint at the disappearance of life itself by emphasising the utterly life-less urban landscape? I don't know. Whatever it is, the feeling that you have seen something out of ordinary, mysterious yet enlightening remains even long after the film is actually over. Very highly recommended.

A Season in Hell

Any book with a title like this (in French it is called Une Saison en Enfer) already gets full marks from me even if I haven't actually read it, which is actually the case with this book of prose poems by French poet Arthur Rimbaud. I have been reading about the fascinating life (okay, I follow a slightly different definition of "fascinating") that Rimbaud led. Actually the French have a special name for poets of these kinds, poets who abuse themselves and destroy their lives to serve their art, or at least that's what they claim. They call them poete maudits, the accursed poets!

Rimbaud wrote most of the poems, for which he is famous now, even before he turned 20 and then left literature for good, to do things like...going to Africa and trading in guns and slaves, or indulging in homosexual debauchery with a lesser poet Paul Verlaine and generally finding some way to scandalize everybody!

This article from New Yorker summarizes the life of the poet and also elaborates the basic credo with which he wrote poetry:

"I want to be a poet, and I’m working to turn myself into a seer. . . . It has to do with making your way toward the unknown by a derangement of all the senses. . . . I is someone else” (“Je est un autre”). The second letter, sent to Izambard’s friend Paul Demeny, repeats and elaborates on the soon-to-be-famous pronouncement. “The first task of any man who would be a poet is to know himself completely; he seeks his soul, inspects it, tests it, learns it,” Rimbaud wrote. “The Poet makes himself into a seer by a long, involved, and logical derangement of all the senses. Every kind of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself; he exhausts every possible poison so that only essence remains.”

This article in The Guardian wonders whether to call Rimbaud a satanic angel, pederast assassin or a little toad ! And here is another one.

Lolita and the Banality of Evil

Okay, an obligatory post on Nabokov. I came across this interesting article on Lolita (link courtesy Arts and Letters Daily). It has nothing special, usual ecstatic celebration of the book in the 50th year of its publication, except for this very interesting trivia. Adolf Eichmann, of the banality of evil fame, was given this book to read when he was in prison in Jerusalem awaiting his trail and he apparently found it "very unwholesome":

As Kubrick was beginning to film, an Israeli guard in a Jerusalem prison gave a copy of ''Lolita" to Adolf Eichmann, who was awaiting trial. An indignant Eichmann returned the book two days later, calling it ''a very unwholesome book." The sulphurous halo of Nabokov's novel was still burning brightly in the popular consciousness of 1960 and it seems that Eichmann's guard gave the book to him as an experiment--a sort of litmus test for radical evil: to see whether the real-life villain, he who impassively organized the transport towards certain death of countless innocents, would coldly, or even gleefully, approve the various and vile machinations of Nabokov's creation.

Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Michel Houellebecq's New Novel

The literary event of the year must surely be the publishing of the latest book by Michel Houellebecq, "The Possiblity of an Island", in November. This article provides a sneak preview:

Houellebecq cultivates the depressive, which is what makes him so offensive and, for many, intolerable. He feeds on Schopenhauer's cosmic pessimism, to which he is more than happy to relate. His style is not to have a style. Casually and indifferently, he describes life as an endless scream of suffering, combining the obscene, the banal and the visionary, often without any transitions. His irony is so dark that it seems almost imperceptible. Houellebecq doesn't think of himself primarily as a storyteller, but as a social barometer that portrays radical changes in morals and the downfall of mankind in its current form -- a Balzac-light of contemporary human comedy.

The article also informs me that there is a stage version of Houellebecq's earlier novel Atomised. I wonder what is it about!

Read the whole stuff here.


I haven't posted anything here for more than a month now. I started this blog merely to divert myself from the anxiety and loneliness which was gnawing at my inner life when I was in Chicago a few months back. After I came back to India, I have been busy with my social life (!) and other things. I have been reading and watching movies as usual, only that I don't brood as much as I used to do, which is good and which also explains why I don't write about them. I might be back in Chicago in a few weeks and that nagging feeling might return, which means I will have to start blogging again. Till then, goodbye!