#144: Red Desert

Red Desert (1964) - Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni

Part of the Top 150 Films series

In Antonioni’s final film with Monica Vitti, he manages to bring something out that had always been missing from her performances in his preceding ‘Ennui trilogy’. Vitti is dynamic, horrified and, yes, alienated towards everything that happens to her; most importantly, yet ironically, she feels strangely in tune with the rest of the film. Factories billowing smoke, the call from a ship with quarantine victims, a child possibly faking polio: these shouldn’t be the situations that provoke intense reactions in viewers, but Antonioni’s complex and unsettling framings, lensings and their significance not only to the plot, but to the characters, result in a deeply moving study of adaptation and alienation unlike anything he had made beforehand. The painterly palette (sometimes literally, in the case of the white coal-inflected trees and grass) underscore how much beauty with which Antonioni wished to imbue Red Desert; if only his characters could also see.