Sunday, November 9, 2008

RED DESERT (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964, Italy) Giuliana has become an empty vessel, her internal gyroscope deformed, her soft voice a hollow discordant plea submerged in an ocean of despair, and her emotional affect the metal language of machines. Director Michelangelo Antonioni uses bright vibrant colors to offset the drabness of Giuliana’s inner world; he wraps her in a cold dense fog of desperation and hopelessness. The film is constructed around her vague perceptions and undefined suffering as she spirals deeper into the vortex of an untreated mental illness. She is married to a successful businessman and has a child but this seemingly perfect life is kept afloat by surface tension, this precarious balance of her emotional thermodynamics. Giuliana becomes isolated from the world, detached from others and alone in a crowd, when she speaks it seems reflexive and passive, her physical actions pre-programmed and manufactured. When she has an affair with Zeller, her husband’s colleague, she is victimized because he takes advantage of her weakened emotional state. Antonioni films the tryst without love, using the cold steel bed frame to create stark right angles, the physical act very mechanical. The soundtrack utilizes foreground effects such as a lonely tugboat whistle or the jet-stream explosion of steam from a factory’s vent to contradict long periods of silence. This industrial montage of sounds produces an aural dichotomy that represents Giuliana’s split from reality. The rusting intertwining pipes and hulking steel of the factories and shipyards are painted in bright living colors while she is dressed in dull greens or black, breathing life into this static non-living matter. Antonioni lets his camera linger on polluted pools of sludge and piles of industrial detritus before cutting back to his characters; the whole effect is to subtract from the character’s humanity, to make them seem less important in the very environment that they caused, and have become by-product of their own devices. Antonioni shoots in medium long shots with empty space between characters, separating them from each other with expertly fabricated compositions. Giuliana is ultimately lost; diminishing in the foreground while a giant smokestack vomits yellow poison. (A)

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