For Reel

Red Desert (1964)
March 31, 2012, 4:27 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

In the early-1960s, black-and-white cinematography was still the aesthetic of choice for serious European dramas. Not only does Red Desert distinguish itself from the pack because it resisted this trend, but its experiments in color are so vivid and successfully world-building that it is fair to regard it as a significant landmark in the history of European cinema. Art director Piero Poletto famously painted streets and certain objects in order to suit Antonioni’s desired tone. The result sees mostly hues of brown, gray, and blue, with the occasional, shattering boldness of a red or yellow, usually accenting the film’s perceptions of modernity. Of course, modernity is the prime concern of the picture, but to suggest that it simply possesses a Luddite tendency is too reductive. As much as it expresses environmental concerns, Antonioni is equally fascinated and mesmerized by the utopian sculptures of his vast wasteland – even the poisonous, yellow smoke at the film’s end has a beauty worth mentioning. His point does not seem to be so much that technological innovations have exclusively led to the alienation that is suffered by the protagonist, but rather that mankind itself has not adjusted to their own self-imposed patterns of industrial living. The film’s most enchanting sequence – a fable of sorts told by Monica Vitti to her son – is certainly governed by a theme of isolation, despite the natural, idyllic pinks and blues of the gorgeous beach. While there is certainly environmentalism at play, Antonioni is at something much deeper – a sort of interpersonal pollution, in which communication is so crippled that the absence of meaningful human relationships becomes a catalyst for madness.

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