The Red Desert (1964)

11 05 2008

Perhaps Antonioni’s single most technically accomplished effort is also his least nuanced. In some ways, it feels as though the introduction of color into palette made him want to do something a bit more simple. The characters, though deep as usual, feel like more accessible, streamlined portraits of the characters in the trilogy. Where in his previous films, “eros” is characterized as its own being that can burden human relationships, it is more like a monster here. In other words, this probably closer to Polanski’s Repulsion than anything else in Antonioni’s filmography.

Following an accident, a sensitive Guiliana has still not gotten use to the rhythms of human life. Her husband, Ugo is professional and presentable but never willing to give her the attention she deserves. Ugo now has a new associate, Corrado, who develops a deep interest in Guiliana. He is aware that her past has made her cautious, but he does not understand the importance of such events. Like almost all of Antonioni’s character, the three drift around, trying to capture fleeting moments of pleasure in hopes of something bigger. In the mean time, Guiliana’s mental condition continues to worsen.

With the final film of his trilogy, L’Eclisse, Antonioni achieved an almost wordless but profound examination of a drifting soul, trying to attach herself to someone. Here, we get sort of the same thing but it is presented in a much more expressive, outspoken, and talkative manner. For as much as Antonioni is remembered for introducing a cinema not reliant on dialogue, it is here, in one of his most famous works that he indulges everything he seemed to have been fighting against before. That isn’t to say this is as talkative as an Eric Rohmer film, or that it the characters are able to articulate themselves particularly well. Instead, it is a more “cinematic” problem that the dialogue taints the usual rhythms of Antonioni’s work.

To make up for the lack of nuance, some new technical elements are employed. The ambient drone that is present throughout the film perfectly fits the mechanized atmosphere in which our protagonists (if you want to call them that) are trapped in. The shots are built around a color in an attempt to correspond with the character’s psychology. Such manipulation may seem a bit over the top and even gimmicky, but the colors have a distinct feeling. Sure, Identification of a Woman has a richer color pallete and ultimately, looks much more modern, but this film feels a bit confident in it’s presentation. Explaining the cinematography would be a daunting and probably impossible task but there is definitely something special about it.

Considering how well this is received among the “Antonioni circle” it is a tad disappointing to find the film to lack the complexities that, personally, make Antonioni so very special to me. Then again, there’s definitely some great things in here and of course, Monica Vitti is quite possibly the single most captivating actress of all time. Her performance is a bit more melodramatic here considering that she’s suppose to be “insane” but she is special to watch none the less. Combining her presecene with the formal experimentation and you’ve got yourself a wonderful film. The film’s only problem is that the characters aren’t fleshed out to the usual Antonioni standard.

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2 responses

24 09 2008
Bob McCartney

“The Antonioni Circle?” Jesus H. Christ. What a sonofabitch. As an “official member” of “the circle” I goddamned forbid you to watch any other films from this great man, Michelangelo. This film is a masterwork. Your “problems” with the film itself are muddled- YOU don’t even seem to know what the hell you’re talking about (judging from that terrible, stumbling review for this expressive, beautiful film). Go back to Hell, American. You’re banished from Antonioni’s filmography FOREVER! Why don’t you try “reviewing” pop-music or action figures instead? Jesus H. Christ.

25 09 2008
Jake Savage

Uhm, I actually love this movie a great deal. I guess I’m just negative, though judging by your extremely violent tone, you probably have no real interest in discussing the film itself.

The whole “Antonioni circle” was somewhat of a joke, but just so you know, Antonioni is one of my favorite directors.

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