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Red Desert (1964)
"Il deserto rosso" (original title)

 -  Drama  -  8 February 1965 (USA)
7.7
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 7,050 users  
Reviews: 34 user | 63 critic

Cold, rain, and fog surround a plant in Ravenna. Factory waste pollutes local lakes; hulking anonymous ships pass or dock and raise quarantine flags. Guiliana, a housewife married to the ... See full summary »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
Carlo Chionetti ...
Ugo
Xenia Valderi ...
Linda
Rita Renoir ...
Emilia
Lili Rheims ...
Telescope operator's wife
Aldo Grotti ...
Max
Valerio Bartoleschi ...
Giuliana's son
Emanuela Paola Carboni ...
Girl in fable
Bruno Borghi
Beppe Conti
Julio Cotignoli
Giovanni Lolli
Hiram Mino Madonia
Giuliano Missirini ...
Radio telescope operator
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Storyline

Cold, rain, and fog surround a plant in Ravenna. Factory waste pollutes local lakes; hulking anonymous ships pass or dock and raise quarantine flags. Guiliana, a housewife married to the plant manager, Ugo, is mentally ill, hiding it from her husband as best she can. She meets Zeller, an engineer en route to Patagonia to set up a factory. He pursues her, they join friends for a dinner party of sexual play, then, while Ugo is away on business, she fears that her son has polio. When she discovers the boy is faking, she goes to Zeller, panicked that no one needs her. He takes advantage of her distress, and she is again alone and ill. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

This is the story of a woman...Her hidden thirsts and hungers...Told by the world-famous director Michelangelo Antonioni in his first color film.

Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

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Language:

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Release Date:

8 February 1965 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Red Desert  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(Westrex Recording System)

Color:

(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Richard Harris agreed to star in Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee (1965) in December 1963 whilst still in the middle of making this film. Harris walked off Michelangelo Antonioni's film as it went further behind schedule to ensure that he did not miss Major Dundee's start date of 5 February 1964. Harris said that Red Desert (1964) had to be completed without him and a double was used for his character in some of the long shots. See more »

Quotes

Giuliana: I feel my eyes tearing up. What should I do with my eyes? What should I watch?
Corrado Zeller: You ask what you should watch. I ask how I should live. It's the same thing.
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Connections

Referenced in Safe (1995) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Sublime Monica Vitti shines in Antonioni's abstract masterpiece
11 January 2011 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni's 1964 piece 'Red Desert' is, on the surface, a film that deals with the changing face of the world under rampant industrialisation, but far more than that it's a comment on alienation and human adaptability in such a society. Guiliana (played by Monica Vitti) is the wife of petroleum plant manager Ugo. She lives in a spacious, modern apartment with Ugo and their small son, but there's an undercurrent of instability in Guiliana's persona, a feeling of unease and angst that Monica Vitti exhibits in Guiliana's every action. Vitti's portrayal of Guiliana is one of a woman on the point of a nervous breakdown, always fidgeting, wringing her hands, looking at unease and full of angst and continually walking away from conversations, forcing others to follow her. The way her character hugs close to walls at every opportunity is allegorical of her need to be surrounded by friends, family and loved ones, claiming that she "is only ill when I'm alone". We find out that Guiliana had recently been in a car accident and had spent a month in hospital being treating for shock, but unbeknownst to Ugo, Guiliana isn't adjusting well after her accident, while her husband remains entirely oblivious. Into the frame comes Corrado Zeller (Richard Harris), an engineer friend of Ugo on his way to set up a new petroleum plant in Patagonia. Zeller is a quiet, reserved man who, like Guiliana, is visibly at unease with his surroundings, however his life and work afford him the luxury of moving from place to place, while Guiliana feels increasingly trapped in her existence. Inexorably, Zeller and Guiliana are drawn to each other, Zeller recognising a kindred spirit of sorts and Guiliana casting out a cry for help that only Zeller is capable of recognising. The fact that Zeller picks up on this and is continually drawn to Guiliana, despite her unstable, demanding behaviour, immediately points to his attraction to her, but it's only after acting on his attraction that Guiliana comes to accept her station and encounters her defining realisation; people aren't cured, they adapt.

But it's not just Guiliana's life she has to adapt to, it's her surroundings, beautifully brought to screen in what was, quite surprisingly, Antonioni's first foray into colour. With a telephoto lens to flatten the perspective, framing scenes purposefully out of focus and the use of disarming long-cut shots, Antonioni paints a bleached and chemical picture of post-war Italy, an Italy that expanded into an industrial super-power at an alarming rate. Antonioni was so adamant about how this world should be presented that he insisted on painting trees, barrels, walls and even whole fields to ensure the results he envisioned. An extreme measure, certainly, but a welcome one as the stark, sterile greys of this industrial Italy, juxtaposed here and there with flourishes of artificial, man-made colour, are often brought to the forefront of the viewer's mind when at times the pacing and ambiguity of the narrative create a lull in interest. Those man-made colours provide another allegorical point, alluding to how the society of this industrial community has adapted to the bleak repetitiveness of the environment by injecting splashes of primary colour into their surroundings. One criticism that's easy to level at 'Red Desert' is that it's an entirely singular film - Guiliana is undoubtedly the protagonist of this piece, but everyone else, even the ambiguous love interest Zeller, appears on screen barely defined. This might be a problem for anyone expecting a traditional narrative, but that's not what 'Red Desert' is about. There's no real progression of story here, only the progression of Guiliana's mental state, everything else is quite incidental and as such, is not admitted entry into Antonioni's vision. It's this bold vision that provides the films defining hallmark; the wonderful cinematography that surrounds Monica Vitti's accomplished, if somewhat overwrought, performance.


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