Total Eclipse (film)
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Total Eclipse original theatrical poster
|Directed by||Agnieszka Holland|
|Produced by||Jean-Pierre Ramsay-Levi
|Written by||Christopher Hampton|
|Music by||Jan A.P. Kaczmarek|
|Edited by||Isabelle Lorente|
|Distributed by||Fine Line Features|
|Running time||111 minutes|
Total Eclipse is a 1995 film directed by Agnieszka Holland, based on a 1967 play by Christopher Hampton, who also wrote the screenplay. Based on letters and poems, it presents a historically accurate account of the passionate and violent relationship between the two 19th century French poets Paul Verlaine (David Thewlis) and Arthur Rimbaud (Leonardo DiCaprio), at a time of soaring creativity for both of them.
The older Paul Verlaine meets Arthur Rimbaud's sister, Isabelle, in a café in Paris. Isabelle and her mother want Verlaine to hand over any copies he may still have of Rimbaud's poems so that they can burn them; they fear the lewdness of his writings. Verlaine reflects on the wild relationship he had had with Rimbaud, beginning when the teenaged Rimbaud had sent his poetry to Verlaine from his home in the provinces in 1871. Verlaine, instantly fascinated, impulsively invites him to his rich father-in-law's home in Paris, where he lives with his young, pregnant wife. The wild, eccentric Rimbaud displays no sense of manners or decency whatsoever, scandalising Verlaine's pretentious, bourgeois in-laws.
Verlaine is seduced by the 16-year-old Rimbaud's physical body as well as by the unique originality of his mind. The staid respectability of married, heterosexual life and easy, middle class surroundings had been stifling Verlaine's admittedly sybaritic literary talent. His taking up with Rimbaud is as much a rebellion and a liberation as it is a giving in to self-indulgence and masochism. Rimbaud acts as sadistically to Verlaine as does Verlaine to his young wife, whom he eventually deserts. A violent, itinerant relationship ensues between the two poets, the sad climax of which arrives in Brussels when a drunken and enraged Verlaine shoots and wounds Rimbaud and is sentenced a fine and two years in prison for sodomy and grievous bodily harm.
In prison, Verlaine converts to Christianity, to his erstwhile lover's disgust. Upon release he meets Rimbaud in Germany, vainly and mistakenly seeking to revive the relationship. The two men part, never to meet again. Bitterly renouncing literature in any form, Rimbaud travels the world alone, finally settling in Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia) to run a "trading post". There he has a mistress and possibly a young boy-lover. A tumor in his right knee forces him back to France where his leg is amputated. Nevertheless, the cancer spreads and he dies at the age of 37. When he dies, the image of one of his most famous poems, Le Dormeur du val, appears.
During her conversation with Verlaine, Isabelle Rimbaud asserts that her brother had accepted confession from a priest right before he died, showing Christian penitence, which is why only the censored versions of his poetry should survive. Verlaine pretends to agree but tears up her card after she leaves. Later, Verlaine, drinking absinthe (to which he has become addicted), sees a vision of the sixteen-year-old Rimbaud, returned from some transcendent realm to express the love and respect Verlaine has thus posthumously earned. The film ends with the young Rimbaud walking alone on a mountain range, Verlaine proclaiming that they were both happy together, and Rimbaud claiming to have finally found eternity.
- Leonardo DiCaprio as Arthur Rimbaud
- David Thewlis as Paul Verlaine
- Romane Bohringer as Mathilde Maute
- Dominique Blanc as Isabelle Rimbaud
- Felicie Pasotti Cabarbaye as Isabelle, as a child
- Nita Klein as Rimbaud's Mother
- James Thiérrée as Frederic
- Emmanuelle Oppo as Vitalie
- Denise Chalem as Mrs. Maute De Fleurville
- Andrzej Seweryn as Mr. Maute De Fleurville
- Christopher Thompson as Carjat
- Bruce Van Barthold as Aicard
- Christopher Chaplin as Charles Cros
- Christopher Hampton as The Judge
- Mathias Jung as Andre
The most common criticism was that the film never explained the importance of these two poets' work, especially their role in the development of the Symbolist movement. Critics also said the film had little character development, aside from showing the two famous French poets at a critical and radically unhappy moment in their lives. Other critics felt Rimbaud was portrayed much too sympathetically.
Critics did generally feel that the acting, musical score and cinematography were all well done, although some felt that DiCaprio played the character too closely to his role in the film The Basketball Diaries.
In 1999, a DVD edition of the film was released. It does not have any of the special features that people have come to expect from a DVD such as deleted scenes, cast or director audio commentaries. However, it did feature both a widescreen and fullscreen version of the movie on the same disc as well as the film trailer.
- Total Eclipse at the Internet Movie Database
- Total Eclipse at Rotten Tomatoes
- Poetic Space – Extensive online library of Rimbaud and Verlaine translations and biographies