A masterpiece of color cinematography, RED DESERT uses its carefully rendered color scheme to heighten the emotional impact of Michelangelo Antonioni's portrayal of the alienating effect of the modern world on one woman. Giuliana (an atypically brunette Monica Vitti in a marvelous
performance) lives in the northern Italian town of Ravenna with her husband, Ugo (Carlo Chionetti), a factory engineer who fails to appreciate the depth of her despair, and with her young son, Valerio (Valerio Bartoleschi), upon whom she dotes. The city's grim industrial landscape weighs heavily
on Giuliana. Corrado (Richard Harris), who has come to recruit workers for a South American project, is attracted to her and understands her depression, realizing that the auto accident ostensibly responsible for her malaise was really a suicide attempt. Giuliana's struggle to come to terms with
her environment is not easily resolved. As the film ends and her son asks her why birds don't fly through the poisonous yellow smoke of factory, she is able to tell him it's "because they have learned to fly around it," illustrating the separate peace she must make with technology.
An extremely disturbing film, RED DESERT captures a rare beauty that extends the boundaries of film art in its use of color and setting. In attempting to depict Giuliana's perception of the destructive influence of technology on the natural environment, Antonioni went so far as to enhance the
bleakness of his industrial wasteland by literally painting the marshlands gray, and Giuliana's sense of isolation is further reenforced by a frightening electronic soundtrack. Not an easy film to watch because of its very deliberate pacing, but well worth the effort.
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