Red Desert Reviews
It is a world changing. One in which our protagonist Giuliani, played by Monica Vitti, cannot readily accept.
The way in which Antonioni captures these new machines, with a sense of eerie wonder, makes it easy to understand why Giuliana would be so unsettled by this new existence. Even Antonioni seems to easily get sidetracked by the awesome power of these monstrous machines & man's relative insignificance when standing next to them.
In some ways, I would venture to call it an "industrial horror film." While my use of the term "horror" may raise a brow or two, for Giuliana, this new world is a genuine source of terror. The mechanical screams constantly pierce the air, causing Giuliana much distress. Antonioni frames scenes in which it appears that giant cargo ships are sailing right toward Giuliana, threatening to take her out in the march toward progress.
In fact, Giuliana doesn't even feel at ease inside her own home. Haunted by her son's constant contact with these new technologies & other abject horrors not seen by the audience, Giuliana seems to rarely be in a state not consumed with fear. Antonioni exacerbates this fear with his camera, giving her very little room to breathe and in some instances, even backing her into corners. All of this tension is heightened by a superb electronic score which is at times as equally unsettling for the viewer. Overall, a provocative visual exercise & an interesting look at industrial Italy.
Really, it's more of a situation than a story. The setting is a drab, seaside industrial factory. The sky is overcast and foggy. The water is choked with pollution. Monica Vitti plays the plant manager's wife, who is fresh from a suicide attempt. The implication is that her alienation and anxieties are a product of our modern, industrialized society. She dotes on her young son, but even he adds to her worries by faking polio for attention. She meets Richard Harris (awkwardly dubbed in Italian), an engineer passing through on business. Maybe he can provide her with some solace. Maybe not.
The film's central message arrives when Harris ruefully notes that the world prioritizes humanity below progress, but above justice. Hmm.
This was director Michelangelo Antonioni's first work in color, and the frame is dominated by muddy reds, grays, beiges and browns. There is no "desert" -- only a sense of desolation. Meanwhile, the sparse, electronic soundtrack is highly unusual, and vital to the film's chilly atmosphere. Metallic whirrs and drones subtly comment on Giuliana's malaise. No violins this time.
The most entertaining scene is clearly a sequence inside a tiny, deteriorating shack where an unlikely orgy threatens to occur. But instead, the action de-evolves into Harris and others nihilistically tearing wooden planks from the walls to feed the stove. Another notable diversion is a fantasy segment in which Giuliana tells her son an escapist tale about a girl living in happy isolation on some mythic, sunny island.
Antonioni has said "Red Desert" is not intended to be entirely pessimistic and, indeed, a flicker of hope finally comes when Giuliana observes that the birds overhead have learned to simply *avoid* the factory's plumes of yellow, toxic smoke. Adaptation seems to be the answer.
Some will find this film evocative, but others will have little to do but marvel at Vitti's exquisite hair.
That being said, Antonioni doesn't entirely condemn industrial advancements as much as show how it can displace those who are accustomed to the past. Technology may force Giuliana into bouts of existential despair, but her son thrives on its presence. Antonioni finds moments of beauty among the steel beams and at one point equates it with progress, lending a more nuanced assessment of industry that is rendered tactile and entirely accessible in a final breathtaking existential breakdown set on a massive metal ship. As with L'Avventura, Antonioni plumbs the depths of the human psyche and questions the very notion of existence, raising poignant questions about environmental stimuli and generational progress in the process.
An Eric Rohmer movie about people talking can be interesting. A Mike Leigh movie about people talking can be absorbing. Michelangelo Antonioni's "Red Desert" is only of interest when the actors shut up and we can enjoy some good industrial cinematography.
Refined color space
Distressed filtered lens