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

 -  Drama  -  8 February 1965 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 7,163 users  
Reviews: 36 user | 64 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 overview, first billed only:
Carlo Chionetti ...
Xenia Valderi ...
Rita Renoir ...
Lili Rheims ...
Telescope operator's wife
Aldo Grotti ...
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


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 <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


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.




Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:







Release Date:

8 February 1965 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Red Desert  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Westrex Recording System)



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The idyllic Mediterranean story that Giuliana tells her son is the only sequence in the film in which the color was not manipulated. See more »


[There's something terrible about reality but i don't know what it is]
See more »


Referenced in Safe (1995) See more »

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User Reviews

Red Sea Parts
31 May 2010 | by (Virginia Beach) – See all my reviews

Usually, I see a film and comment on it. If it is one I have seen before, that comment has folds from my life and internal imagination. Every film I have seen builds that imagination in some way. A few are profound and some of those are knowingly so, either me or the film knowing.

I saw this a great many years ago, when visual wisdom was less familiar and it had a great impact on me. At that time, the intellectual economy was fueled by a sort of controlled French angst, formatted for digestibility by young college minds. It really was so. Malick was one in my vicinity who could master a meal made of this without excluding more nourishing things, but that is a different story than the one I want to tell.

I cannot recall the year, perhaps 1966, I saw this at the Orson Welles theater in Cambridge. Since then, I collect the sounds of waves on beaches. I've travelled widely and for some reason have a near perfect aural recall of each experience of the watered desert. It is my primary anchor to the forms of nature.

The shape of this film is an outer world, bleaker than anything Lynch has given us. It is a beast of form: factories that even today amaze me with their power. If this existed in Italy — which I have no doubt — then Soviet stuff is beyond my tolerance. Huge threatening forms seem created by gods to swallow color and thereby grow, engulfing everything. Within this we have a sole conscious mind succumbing. We drift, we succumb. The art here is homeopathic: we are given an experience in color that has power not in brilliance but in what is not there, what has already been swallowed. The cinematic vocabulary of form — three dimensional space — eating minds denoted by color... it is effective. This is Antonioni's greatest accomplishment, I believe.

Nested in this is an inner cinematic world, an island not yet visited by the diseased lumbering ships that spew clotted filth. It is just starting to be explored by a keen, clean sailing vessel. This is literally an island populated by a Miranda, the young, still vibrant inner self that remains of our on-screen body, the woman we have besieged in the outer film.

But this inner film is a contrast: color abounds. The forms do not contain, they rest. The colors have subdued and incorporated the forms that flow. In a subconscious way, these informed my life as an architect, first in form and later in more encompassing conceptual form. We have a newly adolescent girl on the beach, experiencing rather than observing. Her own inner form hinted at futures in the same way that the outer film's colors hinted at rich pasts.

And at about 1:22 in, we have those waves. The filmmaker has not only manipulated contrasts in color and form, but in the sound experience as well. At this inner beach, the sound is lush, hyper real. We have a few moments of the fullest life you can experience as we hear the smallish waves encounter the beach. May you enjoy and cherish these curated sounds.

In most beaches, each wave is shaped not by an encounter with the sand, land, but by an encounter with the preceding, receding wave, newly exhausted by its desires and reseeding a growing desire in the next. It is a water to water rhythm of desire that incidentally involves the form of the beach.

Not here. The waves are gentle enough to speak directly to the beach. We have not stirred the greater urges yet: the girl is young — as young as I was (being male). The caress of water on sand conveys the soft swallow of coarse sand, pillowing and sucking the water. A soft thump unlike anything else, that can only be evoked in memories as primal as taste: scotch, sex, sea air.

May you find something like this experience in your encounter with cinema, something to anchor the story you tell yourself about ideal order.

(That same beach is mapped onto a shack, outside to inside and painted red in the later images.)

Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.

10 of 17 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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