Italian Cinema: L’Eclisse and La Decima Vittima
The Esposizione Universale Romana (EUR) was built with anniversarial intentions, to be the host for the 1941 World’s Fair and to celebrate twenty years of fascism. A product of the Fascist regime or the “Third Rome”, the neighborhood became a historical marker of the Fascist period’s history and was meant to continue as a marker for what was then believed to be the regime’s future. It was the embodiment and symbol of the Fascist regime with its modern, rationalist architecture that celebrated the historicist monumentality of the Ancient Rome. It’s major monuments were to be contemporary interpretations of the Ancient Rome, the Palazzo della Civilta being the new Colosseum and the Basicila dei Santi Pietro e Paolo being the new St. Peter’s. EUR was meant to be a continuation of Rome, not opposing the ancient empire but rather meant to revive its domination over the Mediterranean and encourage orderly suburban expansion. The idea of the continuation was literal in the fact that the projected size of EUR was to be exactly equal to that of Rome’s centro storico and was planned with a central North-South axis with the main street (Via Imperiale) connecting the neighborhood directly to Piazza Venezia. EUR was designed to validate the present regime through its specific connections to the great empire of the past. The neighborhood was to be the physical manifestation of the fascist era. The beginning of the war ultimately prevented the completion of EUR and although a few of its central monuments had been completed, the neighborhood was essentially deserted.
Just as it was planned, EUR continued to be a marker for the fascist regime, though postwar Italian culture negatively saw EUR as a place that had the purpose of defining and confining Fascism as the historical past. It was an abandoned, unwanted place that could not be redeemed nor reclaimed from Fascism. Despite this, in the early 1950s in an attempt to reclaim the neighbourhood and realize its aspiration to be the encouragement for Rome’s suburban expansion, the postwar commissioner of EUR in charge of redevelopment launched a publicity campaign that showed the neighborhood as a “modern, progressive residential and business district” (Rhodes, Gorfinkel 39). In 1951, when Rome became a candidate for the 1960 Olympics, the growth and development of EUR sparked, expanding as a residential quarter and an office district. Government ministries moved headquarters there, building modern international-style buildings. ENI, Italy’s national energy corporation, built a skyscraper there as well. EUR was transforming and modernizing itself. This new symbolic function of EUR as a “trope for Italian postwar modernization” is seen in Italian cinema in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Michelangelo Antonioni’s film L’Eclisse is shot almost entirely in the EUR neighborhood. A defining feature of Antonioni’s films is that the background is often brought to prominence, inviting the audience to pay attention to the setting as if it were a character itself. It is the same case in L’Eclisse, as the characters have very little dialogue and “visual evidence provides the viewer with significant information about the characters’ personal, cultural, and social setting”(Benci 67-68). Instead of focusing on the historical beginnings of EUR and its inevitable connection to Fascism, Antonioni develops a different figurative meaning of EUR. L’Eclisse teslls the story of Vittoria (Monica Vitti), a young woman who leaves her fiancé Riccardo (Francisco Rabal) and starts a new relationship with a stock broker named Piero (Alain Delon). The relationships between the characters, including Vittoria’s mother, are strangely distant. Using the architecture, modernity, and empty atmosphere of EUR, L’Eclisse successfully conveys this difficulty of interpersonal connections in an alienating modern world.
Just a few minutes into the film Vittoria sees the water tower of EUR, known as the “fungo” for its mushroom-shaped construction, from the window of Riccardo’s apartment. The tower appears again as she walks home, as well as a glimpse of the Palazzo dello Sport, another prominent building in EUR, each serving as an indication of the setting. The appearance of the fungo has been analyzed by writers as a connection to the international tension of the times because of its visual similarity to the atomic bomb’s “mushroom cloud”. Other references of this are given throughout the film, most obviously at the end when a newspaper headline reads, ‘the atomic arms race’, and the article inside, ‘peace is weak’. L’Eclisse is a film that deals with the present, modern EUR rather than the difficult fascist-era EUR. The appearance of the Palazzo dello Sport is another indication of this, as it is a monument that was built during the reclaiming period of EUR for the 1960 Olympic Games. Antonioni avoids the signature monuments of the early EUR, fixating rather on the modern developments from the 1950s ‘economic miracle’. Antonioni used EUR beecause it was the perfect location to show the strange imbalance between the sudden modernity of the area conflicting with the traditional, unchanging society. He removes the heavy prejudice of fascism postwar Italians had of the area and instead shows it’s modernity, as well as a part of the centro storico that was impacted by Fascism, the Piazza Campitelli. The piazza lies in what today is known as the Jewish Ghetto, which had been ordered by the Fascist regime to be cleared for wide avenue to be built that would connect the centro storico with EUR and even further all the way to Ostia. Had the war not prevented it, the whole area would have been ‘cleansed by Fascism’. By showing this, Antonioni conveys to the viewer that the regime had an impact even on the beautiful historical center and that EUR should not be characterized only for that connection.
La decima vittima, directed by Elio Petri, tells the story of a futuristic society in which war has been replaced by ‘The Big Hunt’, a competition in anyone can sign up to participate in ten rounds of killings, switching roles between hunter and victim. The use of EUR in this film fits perfectly with the idea of a futuristic society. The world portrayed by Petri is one that shows violence as entertainment while corporations take financial gain from it. This is an interestingly accurate comparison to today’s society, showing that La decima vittima was ahead of its time.
The main characters, Marcello Poletti (Marcello Mastronianni) and Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress), meet for the first time on the steps of the Palazzo dei Congressi, which to viewers would seem as a strange artificial structure built for the movie, but in fact is exactly what EUR looks like. The large, open spaces and modern skyscrapers provide a stark contrast to the ancient Rome, the rationalist architecture focuses on lines and sharp right angled corners, highlighting the place as distinct and futuristic. It’s history also gives EUR a ghostly feeling, forcing whoever comes to remember the fascist regime that had built it. It also could give the feeling of what Rome would look like had the fascist regime prevailed. EUR is kind of a parallel universe of a potential future, which forever makes gives it a futuristic feeling.
Both L’Eclisse and La decima vittima use EUR in a non-traditional way, leaving out the heaviness of its fascist past and rather showing the area as a setting that has undergone a rapid transformation and finds itself in the future, uncomfortably unparalleled with Italian society at the time.
Rhodes, John David, and Elena Gorfinkel. “The Eclipse of Place: Rome’s EUR from Rossellini to Antonioni.” Taking Place: Location and the Moving Image. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2011. N. pag. Print.
Benci, Jacopo. “Michelangelo’s Rome: Toward an Iconology of L’Eclisse.” Cinematic Rome. By Richard Wrigley. Leicester: Troubador, 2008. 63-84. Print.