Monday, July 17, 2006

Red Desert (1964)

My streak of philistinism rears its shaggy head for Michelangelo Antonioni's study in environmental alienation. Red Desert was Antonioni's first color film, and it certainly looks fantastic -- the world Antonioni has built around Monica Vitti's character Giuliani is a cold and sick world, the kind of place people go to die. Industrial grays and steely blues are the dominant shades, and the majority of the splashier colors are leeched of life, bright without being vibrant. The pallid shades of yellow that belch from the factory where Giuliani's husband works are perfect examples of this; the yellow offers a contrast to the monochrome landscape, yet it doesn't provide relief from the overwhelming sense of malaise (if anything, the unnatural diseased shade Antonioni uses only enhances said malaise). Unfortunately, Antonioni's characters are also leeched of life. Of course, that's the point -- the oppressiveness of the sickly modern environment disconnects people from theirselves and all that. I understand the metaphor. But characters have to be something before they can stand for something, and Antonioni doesn't leave room to breathe. It's a film that has pieces of greatness -- certainly the extended sequence on the boat in the harbor, with six adults simultaneously trying to respect and violate each other's space and propriety, is a setpiece for the ages, and the ending is haunting ("They've learned not to fly through it."). But Antonioni is so obsessed with the Big Message that he squeezes the interest from his narrative. His heavy hand is as crushing and life-sapping as the world he shows us.

Grade: C+


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