[Last Film I Watch] Red Desert (1964)

Red Desert poster

English Title: Red Desert
Original Title: Il deserto rosso
Year: 1964
Country: Italy, France
Language: Italian, Turkish
Genre: Drama
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Michelangelo Antonioni
Tonino Guerra
Giovanni Fusco
Vittorio Gelmetti
Cinematography: Carlo Di Palma
Monica Vitti
Richard Harris
Carlo Chionetti
Xenia Valderi
Rita Renoir
Aldo Grotti
Lili Rheims
Valerio Bartoleschi
Emanuela Paola Carboni
Rating: 8.0/10

Red Desert 1964

I have hitherto watched 7 and ⅓ of Antonioni’s films, the ⅓ is referred to EROS (2004), so I think I may entitle to attest that it does take time to appreciate his oeuvre and subdue the often wayward elusiveness in his storytelling.

RED DESERT is prominent because it is Antonioni’s first colour feature, and remarkably the first one has already been able to stun the world with its unique palette aesthetics, with “Red” in the title, one might assume the film would be a torrid emotional roller-coaster with desire and energy, but what the film actually presents is the consuming mental malady in the budding industrialism, set in Ravenna, our protagonist is Giuliana (Antonioni’s regular muse Vitti), a married woman with a proclivity of mental unstableness due to an accident which never be disclosed to viewers. Her husband Ugo (Chionetti) is the manager of a petrol-chemical plant, so she often wanders in the drab surroundings with her son (Bartoleschi).

The production team does a singular job to construct an inhumane optical exhibition with smoke-puffing smokestacks, giant radio telescope pylons, egregious industrial waste, mechanical factories, formidable cargo vessels, all conspires to a magnificent manufactured landscape, it all seems familiar, but under Antonioni’s fabrication, everything is either eerily suffocating or frostily portentous, Giuliana is completely enveloped by this breathless state, even after she meets Ugo’s business associate Corrado (Harris), she projects him as an alternative to elude her tormented id, they grow closer, she confides in him, but Corrado is a too reticent man to divulge his thoughts, he is a keen observer, there is undeniable lust in his eyes (specifically in the episode where they are in a shack near the pier with Ugo and their friends for the action of the forthcoming but tacit adultery), but mostly it is more like a psychiatrist watches his patient, he listens, often attentively, yet, he is powerless to get her through, eventually he submits to man’s primitive sex drive and leaves her astray in the limbo of her impaired perception about her existence. It is a continuum which extends from Antonioni’s Black & White “Incommunicability Trilogy: L’AVVENTURA (1960), LA NOTTE (1961) and L’ECLISSE (1962)”, and under this specific milieu, the time-irrevelant setting with persistent humming around, it transcends into a telling disposition of our wanting comprehension of the reality, and the ever-so-unfathomable of a human soul.

Monica Vitti accomplishes arguably her career-best performance here, she is constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown, sometimes it is even painful to behold such a destructively raw liberation, she is eternally situated in a state of fright, of the air she breathe, of the sound pestering her mind, of everything around her. Harris is dubbed, but his character doesn’t register anything more than a plot deployment as a witness of Vitti’s self-inflicted syndrome and a recipient of her ambiguous desire.

There are two highlights needs to be noted as the counterpart of all the man-made scenery, one is the phenomenal nightmarish fog shots which captures the quintessence of Giuliana’s mindset when she is wholly sequestered from the saner mass; another is in the fable Giuliana told her son, the spectacular pink beach, where a lonely girl swims everyday, until one day she finds an empty sailing boat and then hears the omnipresent singing which she cannot find its source, the fable per se can sparkle off manifold interpretations apropos of Giuliana’s own conditions, but most admiringly is that it renders an eerily mythic touch and leavens the otherwise perseverance-requiring viewing process, that’s what we call a masterstroke.

Oscar 1964 - Red Desert


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