Red Desert - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Red Desert Reviews

Page 1 of 12
Super Reviewer
½ May 3, 2017
Antonioni impresses us with his stunning use of color (as well as his mise-en-scène, as usual, and in his first film in color, no less) to create meaning and emphasize visually what he wants to say in this intelligent and absurdly sharp study on depression and existential emptiness.
April 30, 2017
This is a very good, distressing film that isn't the "unseen masterpiece" it's made out to be but solid Antonioni nevertheless.
November 8, 2016
The fourth and final collaboration between personal and professional partners Michelangelo Antonioni and Monica Vitti (unless you count their obscure 1981 reunion "The Mystery of Oberwald"), 1964's "Red Desert" strikingly contrasts with the aloof ghostliness of its black-and-white semi-predecessors through robust color cinematography and emotions worn on the sleeve rather than on the confines of chic ennui.
The film stars Vitti as Giuliana, a socially isolated housewife recovering from a recent - and psychologically traumatic - car accident. As her husband's (Carlo Chionetti) the owner of a rural petrochemical plant in Ravenna, Italy, home is found within a drab apartment nearby the factory's headquarters. Friends are nonexistent, entertainment is minimal; all day long does Giuliana sit in the stew that is her tortured mind, with only her young son around to keep her company. Before the aforementioned crash, her unhappiness was perhaps rendered manageable. But since has her depression invaded nearly every aspect of her life. Not a moment goes by in which she wouldn't rather die.
In "Red Desert" is she at her most detached, her most miserable. She dependably acts compulsively, is prone to emotional outbursts, and isn't unfamiliar to coming into a situation dazed and irrational. She's the woman that makes scenes at parties, that wanders off unpredictably like an Alzheimer's sufferer. She's struggling to turn back into the woman she used to be - something of a glamorous catch, we assume - and is tremendously fearful that her son will be affected by her inability to escape the prison of her mind.
Salvation, however, may come in the form of Corrado (Richard Harris), a visiting business associate in the process of recruiting workers for an industrial enterprise in Argentina. Though his cool exterior suggests professional objectivity, Corrado and Giuliana are near identical in their incapacity to love, to find meaning in their respective lives. But because Corrado has adapted to the globe trotting pattern of his occupation, he's grown accustomed to his consistent emptiness. Through therapeutic conversation and mutual understanding will his ability to function on little potentially rub off on Giuliana. But their attraction to one another could also detrimentally impact her marriage and her family life, and the woman's hardly in a place to be much able to handle such an effect.
Following the triple punch that was his unofficial "trilogy of modernity and its discontents" (comprised of 1960's "L'Avventura," 1961's "La Notte," and 1962's "L'Eclisse"), Antonioni's "Red Desert" is a gorgeous afterthought of disaffection made indelible through Vitti's bravura performance and the lush pigmentation of its photography. Said to be a meditation on the pitfalls of social adaptivity and an unconventional argument for the beauty found in things not often seen as beautiful themselves - namely industrial technology - by Antonioni himself, the film works as a fascinating glimpse inside the mind of a woman on the edge. At one point does our heroine speak of a girl she met in the hospital that unyieldingly felt like there was "no ground beneath her, like she was sliding down a slope, sinking, always on the verge of drowning." But we're wont to believe that she's only afraid of admitting that that woman is herself.
Together do Antonioni and Vitti construct a tragic character persuasive in her every move - at the center of "Red Desert" is a protagonist so overwhelmed by her misery that she doesn't know how to be much else besides a symbol of agony ("My hair hurts, my eyes, my throat, my mouth ..." she moans at her most vulnerable), and the portrayal of that inexplicable sorrow is so lucid we can essentially feel Giuliana's emotional vacancy ourselves. The role stands as the most challenging of Vitti's career. But the actress, among the most gifted in the history of cinema, is so attentive toward every detail of Giuliana's neuroses - written or otherwise - that in front of us isn't so much a character as the utmost effective symbol of 1960s, European ennui.
Few director/actress relationships have proven to be as successful as Antonioni and Vitti's. Aside from the calamity that was "The Mystery of Oberwald," every one of their collaborations stand as unequalled masterpieces. Vitti's Renaissance beauty, coupled with her ethereal facility to speak volumes through even the most subtle of facial expression or the most understated of a bodily twitch, enduringly bring luminescent elegance to her and Antonioni's partnerships. She makes Antonioni's suggestions of alienation seem full-blooded instead of fleeting, and he makes her more stunning a figure than anything Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni could have sculpted in his lifetime. Obvious is that their personal relationship played a huge part in the triumphs of their artistic alliance and their critical and commercial prosperity - after their breakup in the late 1960s, neither were much able to recreate the successes they experienced when in the presence of one another.
"Red Desert" remains to be as visceral a masterstroke as it was in 1964 - it accomplishes the nearly impossible task of spotlessly matching the emotional turmoils of its characters with its scenery, and it makes dissatisfaction into something unspeakably tragic instead of ironically romantic. It's certainly one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen - every shot is seamlessly mounted, aesthetically harmonious, and every color giddily sings - and it's additionally one of the most forthright with its feelings and its anxieties.
But mundanity does sometimes stamp "Red Desert" - particularly the unbearably stretched out party scene that cements Giuliana's instability - and it does sometimes present itself as dispassionate and maybe even aimless. I prefer "L'Eclisse," the Alain Delon co-starrer centered around doomed romance in the Nuclear Age. But even its flirtations with outright boredom don't much prevent "Red Desert's" standing as a remarkable achievement within both Antonioni and Vitti's personal oeuvres. It's Antonioni's most visually voluptuous feature, and it contains Vitti's greatest, most untouchable performance. It's a taxing masterpiece - draining and occasionally flat - but its limited array of setbacks do little to argue against the genius of its director and star.
August 23, 2016
Antonioni is truly defying everything in this film, straying to aspects of the art form that are all his own. I can't even tell you what it all means, but simply a memorable meditation that's equivalent to the feeling of being half asleep, half awake.
April 25, 2016
a multi-layered treasure that offers much, but never easily
½ January 30, 2016
While the occasional burst of color offsets the plethora of plain tones, a lot of this film seemed annoying to me. From the whiny main character to the incessant fog horn that faintly blared in the background, I had trouble trying to determine if this was a film about a disillusioned wife or some sort of industrial strike. At least the parallelism at the beginning and end gave it some sense of continuity.
December 30, 2015
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.
December 27, 2015
Monica Vitti stars as a young wife and mother living in a desolate, industrial area of Italy. She is angst ridden and unstable, seemingly unsure what her role is supposed to be in life. She has a dalliance with a business associate of her husband's (Richard Harris), which really solves nothing for her. A fairly typical Antonioni film marked by his first use of colour. It's a gorgeous film to look at ... industrial wastelands have never been so beautiful.
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 September 26, 2015
Antonioni goes "no holds barred" and "pulls out all the stops" to create a color film of such crazy artistic intensity that every shot is a perfect composition. I provided my own voiceover commentary, a commentary of continual astonishment (which still did not take away from the electronic psychotronic noise soundtrack). Let's put it this way: not only are the costumes, props, and sets perfectly selected (or painted) to have the ideal complementary colors, but there is often motion in the shot (such as a billowing cloud of steam that expands above two characters who are made tiny at the bottom of the screen, apparently oppressed and inconsequential as the frame is taken over). Geometric shapes abound (squares, triangles, circles), often as part of giant still life shots focused on industrial landscapes, into which a character's head will sometimes protrude moments later. In other words, this is an event picture where incredible set-ups are the norm. At the time, Red Desert was criticized for having a negligible plot and truly it is easy to lose track, as the characters basically do nothing for most of the film (Monica Vitti has post-traumatic stress from an auto accident and feels detached from her husband and child and life itself but may be open to advances from dubbed Richard Harris). You could make the case that the visuals help to enhance the themes of alienation and insignificance. The environment can easily overwhelm the characters and this is even more problematic due to the industrial waste and pollution that poisons it - in color. Another masterpiece from Antonioni.
½ September 12, 2015
Even from today's perspective, Michelangelo Antonioni's first color film released in 1964 seems avant-garde for its time. It contains elements of the absurd, existential angst, and painterly abstraction; all topical subjects at the height of the Cold War when artistic intellectuals such as Antonioni could tap into the palpable fears of audiences. These were times when people stood at the abyss of eminent global extinction while on the verge of reaching for the stars. The film still has the ability to illicit the feelings of those times though not as keenly and meaningfully as they did then; maybe we've grown up and have become desensitized to tragedy as a result of media shock from a steady stream of chronic atrocities.

The industrial settings used by Antonioni is seen by some critics as engendering a sense of alienation in humans and thus triggering the neurotic behavior of his protagonist and muse, Monica Vitti. Her admiring companion, played by Richard Harris, is better able to articulate similar misgivings about existence and hence better grounded in reality. Even so he can't reach her even while passionately smothering her in his bed and leaving both unsatisfied. Although Antonioni says that he was personally involved with neurotic patients, Vitti's portrayal of neurotic symptoms seems to be uneven and artificial at times.
In an interview Antonioni says that his motivation for the industrial motif wasn't anti-technical but rather a recognition of an inherent beauty present in industrial technology; i.e. along the lines of the artistic school of Precisionism. Nonetheless, it adds to a sense of suspension and otherness when combined with audio that one might associate with an SF film like Forbidden Planet. Most likely he is not trying to get some point across but rather to set a mood or an expression of a feeling much like a painting. However, another point that Antonioni makes doesn't ring quite as true, i.e. that he is not incorporating symbolism but the audience does that after the fact. The one example of this is the not so subtle use of a toy gyroscope to explain to Monica's small child how proper orientation can be maintained in troubling situations.

Overall, Antonioni provides a consistent thematic mood throughout the film and allows his audience plenty of room for a variety of interpretations which may be why we're still puzzled and amazed by it fifty years later.
½ July 11, 2015
Antonioni depicts the way our environment shapes and influences us from within.
½ July 11, 2015
Antonioni depicts the way our environment shapes and influences us from within.
½ June 27, 2015
A bit slow, very symbolic and the dubbing was distracting. I liked how many ships were shown sailing but not with visible water. My favorite part was the child asking what's one plus one and then showing that two drops put together in a dish make 1 not two.
December 1, 2014
The wife of an industrialist can't deal with reality as her husband's new business partner falls in love with her. This film is full of beautiful imagery & short on plot, and it definitely requires multiple viewings to absorb its meaning. That being said, I think it might be genius, & Monica Vitti is gorgeous as ever.
October 1, 2014
Utterly fantastic. Gorgeous stuff
September 22, 2014
Speechlessly colourful and beautiful, but unbearably boring. Monica Vitti is another reason to watch.
September 16, 2014
Great w
ork Antonini, Aliens in the modern era is the best sentences can be said for the idea core genius
Page 1 of 12