Red Desert - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Red Desert Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ March 13, 2012
Being Antonioni's first color film, one cannot help be stirred by his masterful use of it. By muting colors with filters-and of course with a little help from paint-he introduces us to an industrial Italy. One void of all the romanticism associated with places like Venice. A place replete with drab grays & brown, where even fruit on roadside stands have lost their hue.
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.
Super Reviewer
½ July 19, 2010
Absolutely stunning! Environmental composition, landscape, and color have never been used so effectively to convey state of mind. The industrial climate is an apt counterpoint to Vitti's neuroticism and lack of adaptibility. A daring and innovative cinematic achievement!!
Super Reviewer
March 17, 2008
Well, no one can accuse this film of having too much plot. But the lead actors are charismatic, and the landscapes are striking.

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.
Super Reviewer
February 18, 2011
A very strange and somewhat hard to follow film but one that has a atmospheric and appropriate setting. You feel a sense of despair that the environment and it's star, Giuliana, portray.
Super Reviewer
December 20, 2006
Use of color and electronic sound create the perfect state of mind of the disturbed woman.
September 27, 2012
At first glance, it may seem contrived and melodramatic, but somehow it dances a beautiful melancholy dance that only the best of films can hope to achieve.
October 7, 2015
A spiritual sister to Todd Haynes' brilliant Safe, Antonioni's Red Desert is a study of the oppressive nature of industry and the existential doubt it forces upon those unsuited to it, a visual piece utilizing color as a means of contrasting passionate human emotion against toxic numbness. Giuliana fears the overabundance of the artificial, feeling a desperate need for vibrancy in an existence that is defined by sameness; this stifling environment of metallic garbage and nervous discomfort leading her to seek out others in cramped, colorful spaces in order to feel some sort of sexual and emotional sense of being.

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.
½ June 2, 2014
What distinguishes this Italian classic is its sense of place. Here modern Italy is a bleak wasteland filled with industrialized pollution & inhabited by a woman who is incapable of experiencing a genuine connection with other people
March 20, 2013
ngelo Antonioni's panoramas of contemporary alienation were decade-defining artistic events, and RED DESERT, his first color film, is perhaps his most epochal.
March 6, 2013
A beautiful and haunting meditation of alienation and detachment of modernity. Absolutely mind blowing cinematography, hand painted fruits, how about that fog?! A film of mystery, one for the senses. Antonioni's masterpiece.
August 27, 2012
A meditative, existential tapestry of painterly and sorrowful images. Monica Vitti gives a contained and compelling performance in this quiet, but fierce exploration of ennui and the beauty and ugliness of modernism.
March 30, 2012
That's two hours that could have been better utilized.

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.
½ March 2, 2012
A woman is mentally ill in a dull, ugly town. A moody movie, not particularly "eventful", save it for a day when you feel particularly deep in thought. Or don't, it probably doesn't make a difference.
November 17, 2011
my first antonioni film and i gotta say i was let down, nothing really of consequence seems to happen, just meandering from one place to another, i guess the locales were good, and a few scenes were well put together, but overall just boring, i really just tuned out halfway through
½ April 9, 2010
Cinema-realization of (a) (philosophical) idea(s). I really need to watch it again with a better condition (watched with rental VHS) to fully understand it, but I at least could catch what it is about - fragility of "reality" and human mind. How the heroin feels in the film is, I think, familiar to everybody at least once in life so far - complete lost of the sense of reality. It is made into tangible shape through so many symbols chosen by Antonioni, like factories, smogs, huge ships, all-white walls, etc. Those images make this film almost a sci-fi, like Tarkovsky's works, and it's addictive.
½ October 5, 2011
Wow. The movie will with you for days if you make to the end. The crisis of the modern woman in Italy in the mid 60s. Italy was dealing with industrialization and the first signs of big city alienation. Profound in its existentialist themes, the film seems more of the French flavor, quite opposite of any American movie. To be seen on a big screen with a hardcore film buff in winter. The OMG generation will probably turn it off after ten minutes, maybe less.
February 3, 2011
Heartbreakingly beautiful. It's as if every blade of grass and every hair on Monica Vitti's head were arranged by Antonioni - every oil slick and plume of smoke were painted onto the screen by him. Nature and pollution are shown equal in their terrible beauties. But like many Antonionis you sometimes are left wondering what exactly is at its core. L'Avventura, La Notte, and Blow Up are masterpieces - L'Eclisse and Zabriskie Point are beautiful voids... but like The Passenger I'm not sure where exactly Red Desert falls. I'll have to let it sink in, in a month I might have some idea.
November 27, 2010
Yellow-dog saturation
Refined color space

Modern agita
Psycho-social imbroglio
Distressed filtered lens
October 31, 2010
"Uncompromising in its grimness, unrelenting in its slowness, "Red Desert" is not to everyone's liking -- and I can't imagine wanting to see it more than once -- but it's not without its power or importance." - Ken Hanke
½ August 26, 2010
I'm not sure what to make of this one. It's a movie with great highs (particularly the story told by Guiliana while her son is in the hospital) and some stunning industrial-based cinematography. However, none of the characters were particularly appealing and, in the case of Monica Vitti's portrayal of Guiliana, downright repulsive. Characters were at their most interesting in a large crowd, like the shack scene. There no one character dominates, instead it is a powerhouse of mixed personalities where no one has a chance to over wear their welcome on screen. Unfortunately most of the movie is Vitti and a blandly philosophical Richard Harris who flirt unconvincingly for most of the movie. He's looking for some tail, she's looking for an escape. And in the middle of it all are Vitti's growingly worrisome mental episodes. That Harris is still trying to tap that really diminishes his character and really does make him look more like a player than a worried friend. Ultimately, the film is still compelling due to the various non-character elements of the film--especially visuals and sounds, both of which are top-notch.
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