Set in 1870, this is the story of a volatile romantic triangle and the lives it consumes.
Paul Verlaine (David Thewlis) loves genius teenage poet Rimbaud (Leonardo Di Caprio)
because he finds him totally, powerfully exceptional. Rimbaud loves Verlaine because for a
moment he thinks he has found the companion to share his search for the absolute. But
Verlaine also loves his wife Mathilde (Romane Bohringer), who finds her husband magnetised
by the intoxicating lure of Rimbaud, who illustrates the easy cruelty of young genius and
the constantly warring creative and destructive forces that exist within the artist.
"The impeccable credentials of director and scriptwriter won’t rescue Total
Eclipse, an interesting but tedious portrayal of two unlikeable historic characters,
played by Leonardo Di Caprio and versatile UK actor David Thewlis. Di Caprio displays the
boyish charm that has skyrocketed him to box office heart-throb status, but this
despicable character, Rimbaud, is arrogant, uncouth and abounds with deplorable behaviour.
Nonetheless, Di Caprio manages to exude charisma and gives a strong, brave performance.
David Thewlis’ character, Verlaine, is so limp, weak, snivelling and pathetic, that
it’s hard to believe Rimbaud can see anything at all of appeal, let alone be sexually
attracted to him. Both actors attack their roles with enthusiasm, but the chemistry
between the two is non-existent and their styles are very different. The manner in which
Verlaine treats his poor wife Mathilde, is equally woeful, with lines like "I haven't
set fire to her since Thursday." The script is ponderous with characters that are not
fully rounded nor properly described and devoid of charm. There’s a lack of
consistency too when it comes to the accents: Thewlis delivers an English accent, DiCaprio
an American, Bohringer and others speak in English with a pronounced French accent. And it
could be said that some of the colourful language belongs perhaps more readily to the 20th
as opposed to the 19th century. A moody production with subdued colours and
effective production design, Total Eclipse is a rather haunting glimpse into the bizarre
mental anguish and behaviour of an artistic genius, and the destructive ensuing pattern of
behaviour. The merits of the film, which is visually appealing and beautifully shot in
picturesque locations, are unfortunately masked by its problems."
"Once upon a time there was a renowned European director called Agnieszka Holland, who stunned movie audiences with such audacious works as Europa, Europa. Then Hollywood beckoned, and while she never went quite mainstream, her work thus far [with the possible exception of The Secret Garden] has been defined by a sense of the lacklustre, taking interesting period dramas and turning them into somewhat tiresome, uninteresting affairs [such as the upcoming Washington Square]. Why on earth a contemporary movie audience would be interested in the sexual goings on between youthful and wildly excessive poet Rimbaud, and the older intellectual Verlaine, is something of a mystery. The film's principal characters, as depicted here, lack any real depth or genuine humanity, making it difficult to maintain a reasonable emotional connection with either. As based on the Christopher Hampton play, the film adaptation is a stagy affair, dark and dimly lit, and overly verbose. Apart from the inclusion of a number of love scenes which may have DiCaprio's teen fans squirming in discomfort, the film's theatrical origins are, for the most part, in evidence. Di Caprio was once an interesting actor, but of late, he seems to walk through his roles with an air of righteous simplicity. He's the only American in the cast, and stands out like a sore thumb, clearly miscast and it seems, out of his depth. David Thewlis, however, makes up for his co-star's shortcomings. There's little energy in Holland's direction, and the film meanders along adding little insight into its central relationship. Ultimately, rather than suffer through this film better read the poetry of these two instead. It's far more profound."
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TOTAL ECLIPSE (MA)15+
CAST: Leonardo di Caprio, David Thewlis, Romane Bohringer
DIRECTOR: Agnieszka Holland
PRODUCER: Jean-Pierre Ramsay Levi
SCRIPT: Christopher Hampton
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Yorgos Arvanitis
EDITOR: Isabel Lorente
MUSIC: Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dan Weil
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Beyond Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 18, 1998