Red Desert (1964)
There's always a sense of trepidation that I face when I go up against a big movie. Take for instance my reviews of "The Godfather" and "Citizen Kane", neither of which I liked—these reviews left me with a sense of "oh no, I'm pissing off the movie gods"; but hey, nothing came of it. Yet when looking down on "Red Desert" I can say with all the assurance that I can find: "pretentious" has never fit a movie better.
Michelangelo Antonioni is a huge name in cinema for his masterpieces and his contemplative works. With "Red Desert", his first color feature—yeah, great title, by the way—he takes us to a place where no person should ever be taken: sheer and utter boredom. The movie is only two hours long, standard, right? No, this feels like your stuck in a room watching Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly wrestle in Jell-O while screaming their propaganda at each other. Wait, no, that actually sounds vaguely interesting. This is nothing like that.
Giuliana (Monica Vitti) is a person of many emotions. She's clearly mentally unstable and the presence of many male figures around her makes her seem uneasy. Near the beginning of the movie we see an uncomfortable scene with her and husband that maybe was supposed to be both romantic and illuminating but came across as kind of pervy and also abusive. So, there's that to look forward to.
The very first scene we see features Giuliana going up to some strange guy and buying his half-eaten sandwich and then running away in the bushes to nibble on it like some kind of righteous squirrel. I swear to God, I can't make this stuff up.
Giuliana has got mental health issues that Antonioni seems to chalk up to her feminine persuasion and if that is not the case, then certainly the movie makes a complicated time at getting at the real point: it's all about the technology.
Giuliana's husband works at a plant that billows poisonous gas into the clouds. Everything we see Giuliana do is in direct rejection of this visual cue of the highly industrialized world. It's like Charles Dickens wrote a really tedious work and then filmed it—well, that's not really that far-fetched is it?
Okay, I think I'm being too critical.
"Red Desert" has all the appeal of eating popcorn while watching your parents sleep.
The movie is suggesting that technology is turning this woman crazy and the finer things in life like nature—here we break for a story-telling, dream-like sequence feature a tropical beach and a young girl swimming to find an operatic voice that is housed in rocks that remind her a flesh because everyone's actually singing...again, can't make this up—but the irony is so thick that I'm surprised Antonioni can even make his movie with a clean conscience.
Because, you see, as his first color movie, Antonioni is making a commentary on technology by using a technology. Indeed, some of the most potent visual metaphors come from the use of color and condemn this industrialized world; but for me, it just looks like Antonioni shooting himself in the foot.
As writer and director, he doesn't seem to know how women work. He, like Hitchcock, is baffled and obsessed with them, and thus they act ridiculously. Sexually loose when the time calls for it, and always on the verge of crying nonsensically, Giuliana is not a fun protagonist to have.
The movie drags on like it was in another dimension and eventually we see the end point: ooh, it's all bad. Now let's go home.
Oh, and Richard Harris is in the movie...but I'm not sure he even realized that.
Posted by Micah Jones