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aka - Deserto Rosso, Il
Italy 1964
Directed by
Michelangelo Antonioni
118 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Red Desert

Visually, Antonioni's first film in colour is a marvel, every frame with its careful composition of intersecting planes and colour contrasts being like a painting. Dramatically it is far less engaging and its plot is somewhere between tenuous and tedious.

Giuliana (Monica Vitti) is recovering from a car accident that has left her prone to panic attacks. Her husband (Carlo Chionetti) is too busy with his work to be particularly concerned however his childhood friend Corrado (Richard Harris) steps in to provide support with predictable results.

Antonioni gives superb visual form to the central theme of existential alienation which both the erstwhile lovers experience, typically using the landscape and surrounds (here predominantly a bleak industrial wasteland and comfortless empty rooms) to stunning effect thanks to Carlo Di Palma's cinematography.

Unfortunately his handling of the story is far less effective. The relationship between Giuliana and Corrado lacks sinew to say the least, not so much reflecting their alienated condition as simply lacking any evident dynamic, something which must have been difficult to achieve given the very different styles of the two actors with their linguistic differences (an aspect which is exacerbated by the dubbed dialogue).. Vitti, always elegant, histrionics aside, at no stage convinces as a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown whilst Harris does little more than follow her around like a lost puppy and certainly for an Anglo audience his casting is distracting particularly as one can't help but stare at his pancake make-up and plastered down hair that make him look like a Madame Tussaud's rental. Whatever the reason Harris was cast (perhaps Antonioni was trying to repeat the success of Blow-Up which had starred David Hemmings) it back-fired as he was kicked off the film after he punched the director and the scenes that were still to be completed were done with a double who was photographed from behind.

FYI: Ironically, although the film is strongly reminiscent of the work of Andrei Tarkovsky thanks to its loving attention to material textures and the landscape and with its sense of estrangement and its eerie sound design and lingering romance,in particular recalling Solaris  (1972), the Russian director maintained that Antonioni had gotten "high on pictorial aesthetics" at the expense of story and clarity.




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