The Red Desert (Il deserto rosso)

The Red Desert

There’s something terrible about reality… and I don’t know what.

Of the little Michelangelo Antonioni I’ve seen, I’ve generally liked it, even if the films themselves haven’t really been that heavy with plot, or even thin with plot; they’ve mostly been even thinner than that. But, they’re very cerebral, very open; not just open-ended, but open-everything, not to mention nice to look at. Blowup was one of my first surprise favorites from the list, from before I started writing for this blog, and so I think I’ll always have a bit of expectation regarding Antonioni. This, The Red Desert, is the film preceding Blowup, and was Antonioni’s first film in color. I had conflicting ideas going into this; it was right before Blowup, so I expected it to be at the very least similar, but it’s his first color film, so I also expected a bit of playful experimentation with the new dimension. Antonioni did not disappoint; this managed to match both my expectations at once.

Like Blowup and L’Avventura, the plot of this one isn’t really a plot, but more like a whimsical notion of a story. Giuliana is a woman seemingly at odds with her environment and her friends and relatives after a mysterious accident some time prior to the film. She meets up with one of her husband’s associates, Corrado, and they take a liking to each other the more they spend time together. In terms of plot, that’s really all that need be known; what the film is really is an exploration of Giuliana’s isolated social and mental disconnect with the world and people around her, to the point that she shuns all intimate and platonic interactions to stay within her mental bubble. The film, befitting Antonioni’s first color work, explores colors and visual appearance frequently; it was said that Antonioni had entire fields and trees painted gray to match his vision of the urban environment in the film. The black and gray and white and haze and fog only accentuate the color that Antonioni does use, which pops out of the frame at you whenever it’s featured. There’s also a lot of audio usage; sounds of various kinds emanate from the film at various times, which coupled with the haze of the visuals and pop of the colors creates a very hallucinatory experience, almost as if we are inside the possibly addled head of the main character, and experiencing the world as she does. As wonderful as this was to look at and listen to, it had its fair share of problems. For instance, I needed Wikipedia’s help in forming enough of a plot summary to give you up there, as I was largely lost while the film was playing, which I know many people who would not be able to stand a film such as this, where there is essentially no narrative and only the stray fragments of a plot. The overdubbing could’ve been better, also, though I might have been a little more willing to give it some slack in the opening, since it takes place in a very loud factory and would’ve been damn near impossible to get adequate audio in (though that doesn’t excuse the parts of the film outside the factory), but still, watch out for the overdubbing.

There’s still a good deal of Antonioni left on the list for me to see, but even if there weren’t, I still don’t feel I’ve seen enough of his work to really formulate a solid opinion on him; probably because his films, at their core, are practically the antithesis of the word solid. They are airy, flighty, and porous, more concerned with how people think and interact than with actually telling a story. That’s all well and good, but like I said before, there are plenty of people who just will not take to a film like that. I, however, seem to be one of them; as vacuous of substance as this seemed to be, I still liked it. I don’t know if it really deserves its spot on the list, but I was happy to have seen it, and like the other Antonioni films I’ve seen, this will probably stick in my head for a good while still.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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