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”The Red Desert” (“Il Deserto Rosso”) is the fourth Antonioni movie following “L'Avventura” (1960), “La Notte” (1961), and “L'Eclisse” (1962). I have been on the fence with these three movie, slowly growing to accept them when considering them on their own terms. With “The Red Desert” Antonioni stretches those term to the extent that I have a hard time keeping up.
I get the impression that Antonioni got so excited working with colors that this became the theme of the movie. To use colors actively to reflect the moods of a woman. Antonioni went into this with a lot of zeal, painted fields and what-not and the result is very beautiful. The colors and color compositions are truly magnificent and very central in this movie. Not just saturated colors, that is an old trick dating back to “The Wizard of Oz”, but a subtle use that is both understated and very powerful, if that makes any sense.
The problem is that I think Antonioni got so absorbed in his use of colors that he forgot there is more to a movie.
When you watch an Antonioni movie you have to understand that it is a tableau, a mental state or a feeling he tries to convey, not an actual story. If you look for a story you will get disappointed. In “The Red Desert” there are truly no story at all. No plot what so ever. The Book sums it up very nicely: A neurotic woman (Monica Vitti) is looking for love but finds sex. Except Vitti’s character Giuliana is far beyond neurotic. I am no psychiatrist, but to me she seems to be schizophrenic.
So, Giuliana goes around being afraid of everything to the sound of disturbing electronic noises. Her surroundings are post-apocalyptic industrial landscapes with steam and pollution, mud and fog. Deeply unpleasant. I learned that this was filmed in Ravenna, which is disappointing as I always wanted to visit that place only now to learn that it looks like this. Yicks. Anyway, Giuliani had some sort of accident and now she is a mental case. She is looking for love or understanding and feeling very alone. Her husband Ugo (Carlo Chionetti) is often not present and quite busy at work. Though, to my mind, he is trying to be accommodating, but there is not to do. A business contact, Corrado (Richard Harris) is fascinated by Giuliana and wants to bed her. Giuliana thinks he may help her, but ends up being disappointed. Giuliana is pretty much trapped in her mind and her’s is not a case for amateurs. She needs professional help and a lot of it.
Seriously, that is all that happens over it’s two hours running time.
I found it a lot less engaging than the first three movies. Of course, Antonioni is all about making us feel all her anxiety, but it is so far outside the normal range of feelings that all I feel is pity. The emotional situations, typically alienation, of the characters in the other three movies were all belonging to normal, modern people. I can relate to them. Giuliana is not normal, she is ill and pretty badly. Without that connection two hours feel very long.
The one thing going for the movie is as mentioned photography, particularly the use of colors. The highlight here is a story Giuliana tells her son about a girl swimming on a beach where she can hear the rocks sing. That water looks so inviting I immediately felt like booking a ticket to wherever I could find such a beach.
In the final analysis, unless you are an Antonioni aficionado, you watch this movie for the use of colors and little else. It is not a favorite of mine.