Monday, 10 March 2008

The Red Desert (Il Deserto Rosso) [1964]


Antonioni’s Red Desert follows the stunning but troubled Giuliana (Monica Vitti), wife of a factory manager, through the bleak industrial landscapes of 1960s Italy. She has recently suffered an emotional breakdown following a car accident, appearing to lose her grasp of reality and looking to the mysterious outsider, Corrado (Richard Harris), for confirmation of her existence.

The Red Desert is an oblique slice of pure modernism and a refreshing antidote to the pastiche and self-knowing cinema of the 21st century, comprising a series of interior and exterior tableaux, artificially coloured where nothing much appears to happen physically and yet we are drawn into the luminous face of Monica Vitti, as she casts her perceptions onto the environment. The experimental electronic score by Giovanni Fusco complements the stark formality of Antonioni’s mise-en-scène, where a bedroom can change colour throughout a sequence in order to match the mood and where the physical and metaphorical fog become one, in the same way that Giuliana’s son proves that one plus one equals one. Through her disjointed dialogue, Giuliana comments on the nature of representations and colour; we see the world through her eyes as the projected image reveals the dream-like nature of 20th century alienation and environmental degradation on the screen before us.

It is an interesting companion to the recent work of Gus Van Sant (see Paranoid Park below) in its study of alienation - once the preserve of European intellectuals and now acknowledged as the human condition in the 21st century. The Red Desert deserves to be seen in the cinema - while 35mm prints still exist.

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