Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni (Zabriske Point/ The Passenger) was a master at the depiction of urban malaise, of contemporary alienation, and here, in his first film in colour in 1964 he offers one of his most intriguing ruminations on this theme. Much is made of Antonioni’ obsessive use of colour in The Red Desert, repainting both urban and rural locales to represent the inner machinations of his characters. And there is no doubt it is one of the most visually expressive films you will ever see, Antonioni taking to colour like a kid in a candy store and in fact this film is considered one of the great achievements in colour cinematography. Yet it’s the performance of Monica Vitti as the neurotic slightly unhinged Guliana that really anchors the film and makes it something special. Her travels through the polluted landscape, ruined by technology, where you can’ even fish, with poisonous yellow smoke, protesting workers and a ship that may or may not be carrying some sort of plague further reinforce her inability to connect with the people and world around her. Only Richard Harris as Corrado, a business associate of her husband, seems to offer some solace finding connection through their own struggles. â€œYou wonder what to look at,â€ he offers at one point, â€œI wonder how to live, same thing.â€ In two years he would make Blow Up, the film for which he gained the most renown, however, it’s hard to go past The Red Desert for its incredible portrayal of existential angst.
There’ a great portrait doco of Antonioni and Directors Suite continues its practice of getting local academics to offer audio commentaries. This one by Rolando Caputo associate lecturer in cinema studies at La Trobe takes us through some of the significant themes and practices at play in Antonioni’ work.