Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Red Desert Review

The smog fills the air, the opening frames of the film Red Desert introducing us to a setting that is far from aesthetically pleasing. Gloomy is a word that doesn't even do these landscapes and skyline justice. Director Michelangelo Antonioni brings us right into an ugly, colorless world where even the people match the ground they walk in, muted by tones of grey.

Suddenly a vibrancy enters the frame and it is impossible to not notice. Her red hair flares with intensity despite not really being all that bright because an image so stark explodes with even the slightest infusion of color. The contract between that red and the green coat she is wearing feels out of place in such a drab and polluted land. She walks side by side with a child and she approaches a man holding food. She appears desperate and hungry, perhaps an indication that the subject matter of Red Desert will revolve around the impoverished, except she offers to pay for the sandwich despite it being already half-eaten. Something isn't quite right here.

I discovered after watching this film that it was the first time Antonioni utilized color in a picture, and boy is utilized an appropriate word. The entire thing is stunning, as pastel colors that normally would seem inconsequential in a typical film pop here in a way that actually feels a bit uneasy. It is clear that this is intentional rather than accidental, that the backdrop of grey buildings and white smoke and a rolling fog only serve as a canvas in order to make the reds and blues grab out attention. Perhaps we are seeing the world the way Giuliana (Monica Vitti) sees it, as it is made clear early by her husband that ever since a recent auto accident, her mind has not been quite right. 

While the colors of various set pieces do draw our attention and speak quite loudly on their own, the fact that the lead actress Monica Vitti is strikingly beautiful doesn't do Antonioni a disservice either. For every reason imaginable it is impossible to look away from this strange yet wonderful film, a movie that looks to dazzle all of the audiences senses rather than merely entertain on a narrative level. The sizzle of a room painted entirely the same unsettling tone of red. The way Antonioni uses sound in various scenes like when inside the factory near the start of the film or as the characters occupy a tiny dwelling right next to a river with a ship docking right outside. The mesmerizing eyes of Giuliana throughout the entire experience. Red Desert is appealing and yet off-putting. It is both beautiful and ugly. It is sexy and surreal.

Some films end and whether I love them or loathe them, I move on quickly and don't really look back. Perhaps I will revisit them someday or perhaps I will never give it another thought. I could dive right back into Red Desert tomorrow. Despite being locked in from start to finish, I know I didn't truly see everything that Antonioni wanted to convey with this film. I am fascinated by both what I know and also how much more there must be to uncover.

I love all different types of movies, but my passion for cinema resides somewhere in the same realm that created a film like Red Desert. Much like consuming food, every day I enjoy what I eat and I am left satisfied, but every so often a meal can be so much more. Red Desert has flavors to it that danced across my taste buds in a way that I would not only remember for some time, I would want to go back to that restaurant every single day if I could. 

Red Desert is absolutely delicious.


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