Friday, August 31, 2007

Red Desert (1964, Michelangelo Antonioni)

Visually, as gorgeous as anything Antonioni has ever done, but as wonderful as the images are, they're never comforting or reassuring. As with L'Avventura and later Blow-Up, Antonioni places his protagonist in a situation from which she'll never emerge, but unlike those films she's already there when the film begins. Having sustained minor injuries in what was by all accounts a small car crash, Giulietta (Monica Vitti) has become deeply wounded psychologically. Those around her can't relate to her troubles, and the only one who tries is her husband's friend Zeller (Richard Harris). But despite his attempts to get to the bottom of her condition, nothing changes. It's a deeply existential problem from which she suffers, and one can't help but wonder if she's been predisposed to her mental illness all her life and the accident merely set it off. But Antonioni isn't about analysis, nor does he even try to answer the question, and good on him for that. As expected, there are a handful of magnificent setpieces, like the extended party/aborted group sex experiment at a boathouse, as well as a strange fairly tale Giulietta tells her ailing son during his temporary paralysis (when he recovers, it's almost as though he's mocking his mother's lingering malaise). The film lacks the kind of bravura ending usually associated with Antonioni's work, but the film was so deeply rewarding that I didn't really miss it. Two more thoughts: (1) I need to see this on a big screen, like, yesterday, and (2) maybe it's just me, and I know this is kind of heretical, but Monica Vitti was actually foxier with dark hair. Rating: ***1/2 out of ****.

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