on 9 November 2008
This was Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni's first film in colour, and was to be his last film in Italy for many years as after this he decamped first to the UK ("Blow Up") and thence to the US ("Zabriskie Point", "The Passenger") before eventually returning to native soil to make "The Mystery of Oberwald" in the 80's. It arrived as the end of a sequence of controversial but ground-breaking films detailing the modern condition - "L'Avventura", "La Notte" and "L'Eclisse" - all also featuring Monica Vitti who has the lead role here.
This subject of the film is the relationship between the modern industrial world and those that fit (or, in the case of the Vitti character, do not fit) within it. Antonioni conjures a strange beauty out of the factory-dominated landscapes and it's clear that his reaction is not (as we might automatically conclude in more environmentally troubled times) that industrial progress is necessarily a bad thing, but something a little more complicated. This ambiguous approach, allied with the extraordinary use of artificial colour (grass and fruit painted shades of grey and black) lends the film a compulsively mysterious air, at times almost tipping it into the territory of science fiction. At the centre of it is Vitti, who provides a superb performance (her co-star, a dubbed Richard Harris, received much less favourable reviews, but to my mind brings a stolid charmlessness that perfectly suits his character).
This is an excellent presentation of a wonderful but challenging film by the BFI; visually it has never looked better, and there is a very informative commentary by the Italian scholar David Forgacs which helps to illuminate the context in which the film was made.
on 22 January 2009
I have to take issue with the previous review.
The BFI sourced the transfer of 'Red Desert' to Blu Ray from the original negative. Reviewers with far more technical knowledge than I have say the colours are true to the original 35mm release. I have seen the Blu Ray projected and the depth of colour, definition and healthy amount of film grain present, (In other words, the filmic look has not been smoothed out too much with restoration tools), create a truly fantastic home cinema experience.
If you view this or indeed any Blu Ray on a small TV or PC Monitor, then you will not see a difference in definition. You need a full 1080p TV of 40" or larger, in most cases, to really appreciate the difference between HD and SD.
But enough technical stuff, this film haunts me, Monica Vitti a pale chimera in Antonioni's bleached, barren yet beguiling poem to alienation, abstraction and industrialisation.
This Blu Ray is the cue for cineasts to go Hi-Def! Buy it now!
on 15 March 2007
This is a great movie ( and a cinematic landmark being Antonioni's first in colour) given a pretty dreadful presentation on DVD by IMAGE. Not surprisingly it's from the early days of DVD, circa 1999 or so, so the letterbox image is non-anamorphic 1.85:1(so black bars will still appear even on widescreen displays!) and the sound is only so-so, and there's zero bonus features. Hopefully Criterion or someone will get around to giving it the respect it deserves.
I can't believe some of the prices this is listed at on Amazon, from unscrupulous US sellers. I bought it 5 or 6 yrs ago for around $12 US . But come on - 107 GBP ?!! I'd expect Antonioni to hand deliver it for that amount. I urge anybody wanting this to wait until something better comes along.
on 4 November 2008
Red Desert (Il deserto rossi, 1964) is filmed in an industrial landscape filled with large machines, oil refinerys, garbage heaps, big buildings and so on. Despite this it is incredibly beautiful. The first shots show an industrial plant out of focus accompained to non-melodic electronic music, and the colours and forms reminds of abstract paintings, and Antonioni was inspired by modern art when he made this. His earlier films, L'Eclisse, L'Avventura and La Notte) also feels like paintings with beautiful compositions, but in Il deserto rossi this is abstract instead of hyper realistic, sometimes just layers of technicolor out of focus. This makes the movie visually unique I think.
The story is, I would say, about alienation, and also psychic illness/angst. Monica Vitti plays Guiliana, a young woman who is recovering mentally from a car crash. She doesn't have any good contact with her husband nor her son, and she becomes attracted to a business partner of her husband. This story is framed within the theme of modernity with big industries and business, and how they affect humans - clearly the environments they produce is not healthy, neither physically nor mentally. In the film we never see any 'normal' milieus, as in Antonionis other movies, like the life in an italian city or village. Instead the environment is cluttered and dominated by industry, somtimes a big boat is seen behind some trees or a window, and the only city streets we see are muted grey. This is comically enhanced when in one scene we see a street vendor, and he only sells grey stuff (even the fruits are grey!...I think it is supposed to be fruits...). So the scenes are very stylized, Antonioni even painted the grass in some shots...
The transfer of this DVD from Bfi is excellent, and a commentary track by a film scholar is included. Red Desert is a unique movie, and anyone interested in cinema or Antonioni should see or buy it.
Breathtaking images, for the first time Antonioni's career in color. I'd be happy
to have still frames from this framed on my wall. But the acting and writing didn't
match the power of the images for me, at least on first viewing.
Monica Vitti is a housewife losing her mind, who quickly (and without clear reason)
obsesses a badly dubbed Richard Harris, who is visiting Vitti's husband on business.
What makes this less powerful for me than L'Venturra and L'Ecisse is here the characters
talk a lot more, and a lot of the dialogue is stilted and false sounding; way too full of
`meaning' when the images are already so symbolic. And while Vitti is a good actress,
she's not Liv Ulmann or Meryl Streep. But where it fails as drama, it's amazing as storytelling
through images. Every time everyone shut up, I was immediately drawn back in.
on 26 September 2012
Antonioni is the flawed genius though master of colour and composition. This to me is my favourite of all his films and although he suffers from appearing to have not one iota of humour in his make-up (the flaw in my opinion)it is not required in this bleakly observed film about industrialisation, a certain amount of angst and human relationships in the real world as opposed to the Hollywood mirage. I love this film; the use of colour and masterful composition in particular. It's poetic. If you like this movie then try The Passenger, Le Eclise, La Notta and l'Avventura by the same author - all flawed of course but all stunning in their different ways. Only Fellini is the more complete director, with all his excesses of playfulness, self indulgence (possibly?)and wonderful irreverence, though he, definitely does possess a sense of humour. There is also Tarkovsky of course, and Renoir etc etc - They are all flawed of course, like Da Vinci maybe? Choose your poison!
As you've probably gathered most of the reviews are for the 'DVD' version of the 1964 Italian classic “Red Desert”. And at present (February 2014) this movie is available on BLU RAY in the States and elsewhere. But which issue do you buy in you live in the UK or Europe?
Unfortunately the desirable USA Criterion issue is REGION-A LOCKED.
So it WILL NOT PLAY on most UK BLU RAY players unless they're chipped to play 'all' regions (which the vast majority aren't).
Don’t confuse BLU RAY players that have multi-region capability on the 'DVD' front – that won’t help.
Luckily the superbly presented and restored British Film Institute issue from 2011 is REGION FREE – so will play on UK/EUROPEAN machines – and offers the bonus of both DVD and BLU in the same package.
Check you’re purchasing the right issue ‘before’ you buy...
on 22 April 2013
I suppose anyone looking at this would already be trying to complete a collection of 1960's iconic films.
Out of favour by now, the Red Desert would have its place. Good bit of neo-realism; the superb blighted, polluted backgrounds reflect the blighted, polluted lives of the protagonists.. Low horizon (polluted lakes), big sky, (plumes of orange smoke) and a delightful if screamingly vulnerable Monica Vitti. An impossibly young Richard Harris too, if you can get used to not actually hearing his voice (it's dubbed in Italian).
On the other hand if you've come across this by accident, and know something about estuaries (the lower Thames, Medway, Mersey, Clyde), it may say something to you, too.
Il Deserto Rosso was Antonioni's 1st colour film, and a key work following the alienation trilogy, where the divorce between technology and morality, and the relationship between people and their physical environment, continues in this film.As in his previous films, the story is quite simple and revolves around a woman,Giuliana(Vitti),in industrial Ravenna, who has had a nervous breakdown and tried to commit suicide but,although married and a mother,is now embarking on a tentative affair with Corrado(Harris).Guiliana cannot adapt to her surroundings,the city's grim industrial landscape weighs heavily on her.This is reinforced by a frightening electronic soundtrack and Antonioni's enhanced bleak rendering of the painted grey marshlands.Plasticity and material weight,replace dramatic psychology,story and character development.
Colour emerges as a central element in the film, mirroring her subjective mental states.Colour is integrally linked to character, as was landscape in the trilogy.Scenes are dominated by a single colour or colours.There is also the use of desaturated colours, and the flattening of space by tele-photo lenses.Giuliana is sharply focussed against unfocussed backgrounds or foregrounds.Corrado wants to recruit workers to set up industry in Patagonia and Guiliana catches his eye.He has no roots,is always on the move but feels a kinship and sexual interest with the lost,wandering Guiliana.However their consummation, brings no satisfaction to either.Harris is buttoned-up emotionally and physically, and is dubbed.He acts as a foil to the amazing central performance of Vitti.
The only use of naturalistic colour in the film, is when Guiliana tells Valerio, her son, a story of a young girl on a desert island, visited by a mystery boat, and with the singing of sirens,her only way to escape her unspecified depression and malaise.There is a striking beauty to this film based as it is on a new vocabulary of cinema, with his expressive use of colour like a painter contrasting natural with artificial colours,the formalised framing of coloured objects,the colour balance,the beautiful imagery,the long tracking shots and use of fog to isolate groups of people.This film is not an attack on technology,as there was much sense of beauty of industrial technology from Antonioni:'It's the people who don't function properly,not the machines'.Mankind has to learn to fly like birds do around the toxic yellow smoke.A great influence on Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Breathtaking images, for the first time Antonioni's career in color. I'd be happy to have still frames from this framed on my wall. But the acting and writing didn't match the power of the images for me, at least on first viewing.
Monica Vitti is a housewife losing her mind, who quickly (and without clear reason) obsesses a badly dubbed Richard Harris, who is visiting Vitti's husband on business. What makes this less powerful for me than L'Venturra and L'Ecisse is here the characters talk a lot more, and a lot of the dialogue is stilted and false sounding; way too full of `meaning' when the images are already so symbolic. And while Vitti is a good actress, she's not Liv Ulmann or Meryl Streep. But where it fails as drama, it's amazing as storytelling through images. Every time everyone shut up, I was immediately drawn back in.