Red Desert (Il Deserto Rosso) once more combines the considerable talents of director Michelangelo Antonioni and star Monica Vitti. Cast as Giuliana, an unhappy wife, Vitti suffers from an unnamed form of depression and malaise. Her quicksilver emotional shifts disturb everyone around her, but they, like she, pretend that nothing is truly wrong. British engineer Corrado Zeller (Richard Harris) seems to understand what Giuliana is really after in life, and he acts upon it by entering into an affair with the troubled woman. Giuliana eventually comes to terms with her physical and mental pain, but this hardly means that she's "cured" in the conventional sense.
A Masterpiece (apologies;. do not like the term ... )
- Red Desert review by NW
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You rated this film: 5
Stunningly beautiful photography - the opening sequence alone, before anything happens, is breathtaking - even without Monica Vitti!
Antonioni and di Palma have clearly absorbed and extended the sort of lessons that Djiga Vertov offered in "Man with a Movie Camera", using industrial settings almost as living players, and they are able to add a masterly, spare, use of colour ... a rare enough gift in itself. They also have a story and, of course Monica Vitti.
There are few artists of any sort who can produce sheer beauty effortlessly from a blasted, poisoned industrial wasteland: That is what Antonion does: the condition of the wasteland is an echoing frame for the turmoil in Monica Vitti's head after her "accident" ... attempted suicide and breakdown. A pretty unappealing recipe for a film, one would think. Wrongly. This one is superb, and not only for the pictures.
I shall say nothing about the plot ... you can find all that in Wikipædia!
The film is flawed, of course - I felt that the plot was there for little more than two purposes: to support the pictures, showing just what Antonioni and di Palma could do with colour ... some of the pictures are clearly there for their own sakes alone ... and to provide a róle for a fine performance by Monica Vitti. What she undergoes may scarcely be a recommended course of treatment for nervous breakdown, but she gives it depth and variety, alive and amusing as well as distracted and sick. Her hair does not straggle all the time! As for the other players ... we get performances of sensitive exactitude - never a false note.
Seriously interesting thoughts about social and personal relations and political situations are presented ... but the story is ultimately subsidiary to the film in itself.
I was amused to find that while, as an english speaker, I often need sub-titles with American films; the italian dialogue in this film came over with beautiful clarity, even though I speak no Italian. You could almost learn the language from it.
There is a very good commentary - which I avoided seeing before writing this - by David Forgacs; he ventures further than I choose in interpreting symbolism and intentions, and gives very valuable background information. (No need to look for the symbolism – it sweeps over you!)