Don’t you talk behind my…
What astounds me in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Red Desert (1964) is the duration of scenes and how he’s able to sustain tension (and my attention) within them. Scenes are motivated not by a character’s wants or plot movement, but by the protagonist’s (Giuliana as played by Monica Vitti) gradual unraveling of her neuroses. While she loses her sensibilities as a mother, wife, and woman, it’s as if we’re following a disease slowly take hold of her.
In conjunction with her unraveling, are the sharp visual lines and color contrasts of the industrialized city Giuliana lives in. Much is said of the fact that protagonists in Antonioni’s films suffer from the inability to adapt to the modern world and the decay of a certain type of morality, but I think this film takes things much further than that. Giuliana is suffering from something deeper, something we’re not totally privy to as viewers, but we get a glimpse of it when she tells her son a story about a young girl.
Red Desert was Antonioni’s first color film, and nearly every shot of the factory that Giuliana lives nearby illuminates the incredible contours, architectural shapes, and enormous man-made structures that make up this world. To me, this setting is not incriminating as much as it is a canvas for her state of mind.
I leave you with some shots of Monica Vitti’s back from Red Desert, because
1. Why not? It’s Monica Vitti (!!)
2. I first noticed this in L’Avventura, but Antonioni is obsessed with shots of her back, and Red Desert contains several of them. Enjoy.
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