“Red Desert” (“Il Deserto Rosso”) grappled audiences with depression, pollution and the loss of innocence in a raw way on Wednesday at the International Film Series.
The film follows Giuliana (Monica Vitti) as she struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. Director Michelangelo Antonioni subtly conveys Giuliana’s internal conflict to the audience through her strange actions, such as her paranoia about getting sick and her apparent distance from the people around her. Her husband, Ugo (Carlo Chionetti), doesn’t seem to understand what’s wrong; he says that her “gears don’t quite mesh” because of a near fatal car accident that took place before the film begins. She cares for her son, but she believes that he doesn’t need her.
Giuliana meets Corrado Zeller (Richard Harris) through Ugo, and Giuliana and Zeller begin spending time together. She seems to find relief in his company and tells him things about her mental illness that she hasn’t shared with anyone. She tells him that when she was in the hospital, the doctors told her that she “must learn to love someone, something,” revealing that she has difficulty loving her husband and son. She also admits to Zeller that she tried to kill herself, a fact she has hidden from her family. Giuliana’s relationship with Zeller seems to be her only tie to reality in some scenes.
Zeller is concerned for her at first, but as the film progresses, the sexual tension between them builds. At a crucial point in the movie, Giuliana has a mental breakdown after her son fakes having polio, and in desperation, she goes to Zeller’s hotel. He takes advantage of her vulnerability and instability, and she tells him that not even he could help her, leaving her feeling more isolated and helpless than ever.
The film utilizes soft, out-of-focus images and minimalist framing to convey a sense of disassociation with reality and humanity. The simplistic setup of the shots forces the audience to focus on the characters. The colors are intentionally dismal and dull, setting a tone for the movie as a whole. There are only a few scenes with bright colors, which take place inside Giuliana’s mind, not in real life.
Many of the scenes have only natural sound and no music, especially during conversations. When background music is used, it takes center stage and creates a hostile, unstable tone, usually when Giuliana is frightened or uncomfortable.
Factories and pollution play a large part in the movie, as Giuliana’s husband manages an industrial plant. Giuliana and Ugo visit lakes filled with waste from the plants, and Giuliana explains to her son that the yellow gas coming out of the plant is poisonous. The pollution seems symbolic of the mental illness Giuliana struggles with, especially as it has close ties to her husband and Zeller. Similarly, the close juxtaposition of humanity against machines gives the audience a sense of isolation and allows them an insight into Giuliana’s mind.
The ocean is also symbolic throughout the film. The contrast of the vast ocean with the minimalist, cramped home of Guiliana and Ugo gives the audience a feeling of being trapped. Many scenes take place near or on the water, adding to the idea of isolation and uncertainty.
Overall, Red Desert portrays a woman’s struggle with depression and mental illness in a subtle and symbolic way. Although she acts somewhat strangely, Giuliana is relatable, as are the other characters. The film is visually gorgeous, despite the dull tones, and the cinematography is well thought out and adds to the plot. There is subtle humor throughout the film, shown both in dialogue and in the characters’ actions, but even that is dampened with a sense of anxiety and somberness. Red Desert leaves the audience quiet and serious with a lingering feeling of disconnection from reality.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ainslee Mac Naughton at Ainslee.email@example.com.