Design I

film 3 of 5

Red Desert

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 26, 2015

This insanely, heroically over-designed film is quite comparable to Jacques Tati’s just-later Playtime, though this one’s objections are more insistent, to the point of being nearly as neurotic as its protagonist. They criticize galloping modernism and excessive industrialization (bureaucratization, dehumanization), but the industrial processes that made both films—and their settings!—possible, not to mention the modernist methods they utilize in order to communicate it all, rather undercut that message. It’s so bad/it’s so beautiful! Antonioni’s dire warning registers, and yet the whole of his film is also an awesome visual treat, including its most blasted parts. (That grey fruit stand! That polluted waterside!)

So, we have this terrible beauty, and also this tremblingly flinching character perishing in the midst. Monica Vitti is stunning. It seems that her director more or less left her hanging in the end—her character gets to feeling strident or, worse, simply symbolic. She not only gets punished, narratively, but even blamed thematically. I am asking myself. How is all of this caddishness (the last exchange w’ the R. Harris character, the conduct/comportment of the writer/director himself) her fault? (This is also about how Antonioni/Vitti’s similarly spectacular/hopeless L’Eclisse ended…) But it’s important to note that there’s powerful, creditable stuff being explored and presented here, on the way to that indeterminate, possibly inadequate conclusion.

Vitti’s store, and those paint swatches!

The lengthy houseboat sequence is very impressive. It contains unbecoming behaviour—it’s nearly an orgy—which paradoxically provides a real, nearly healthy contrast to the techno-ennui that surrounds it. Here’s a hint of hope, of authenticity, a bit of analogue in the midst of all of this digital, as it were. (The visual design is just as brilliant here, and it feels so much healthier!) But in the end, or even by the middle it becomes clear that this is no solution either. Old ways or new, industrialization or la bête humaine—we’re damned either way. At the end of the sequence the figures just disappear into the fog. The craft is amazing, and it gets a theme or message across quite wonderfully. That theme or message, though!