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.