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Film / Il deserto rosso

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Landscape in the mist

Il deserto rosso ("The Red Desert" in English) is a 1964 film by Michelangelo Antonioni. It won the Leone d'Oro at the Venice film festival that year.

The main character, Giuliana, is played by Monica Vitti as the latest in her string of significant roles in Antonioni films. Also starring is Richard Harris as Corrado Zeller.

This film might be considered a fourth installment in the tetralogy of alienation by Antonioni after the trilogy of L'Avventura, La Notte and L'eclisse; or even a fifth if one includes Il Grido. Though, it is different from the trio in that it is Antonioni's first colour film, and notably so in that it is one of the most well renowned films for its inventive use of colour. It also does not have a One-Word Title, like the other works.

Giuliana is a housewife who had previously been in a car accident and suffers a nervous breakdown. Through the film, though she remains distant from this depressive state, she is particularly distressed by the modern technology.

Tropes in Il deserto rosso:

  • Bald of Evil: A mild example. In the shack party scene Max, a bald character, behaves in a sleazy way and flirts with a young girl in the presense of his wife. Not an obvious villain but it is implied that he is an unpleasant character.
    • Subverted later when the guests start to destroy the walls of the shack. He becomes the Only Sane Man protesting against their vandalism. The reason for that might be that he sold the shack to his subordinate so it is not his any more.
  • Bilingual Bonus: A man in the penultimate scene actually speaks Turkish.
  • Book Ends: The first scene and the epilogue are made at the same location, near a plant.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Giuliana remembers that a doctor said to her that she should learn to love her husband, her son, some work or at least a dog.
  • Breather Episode: The Giuliana's tale related to her son.
  • Broken Bird: Played pretty straight with Giuliana.
  • Central Theme: Modern technology suppresses humans. However according to the Word of God it is zigzagged.
  • Character Development: implied by the last scene. Giuliana appears to have coped with her mental condition.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Giuliana acts as an extreme example of that. it should be explained by her mental instability.
  • Color Motif: The film.
  • Darker and Edgier: What this movie arguably is to L'eclisse. Now the character is visibly older and married, she survived an accident or tried to kill herself and went insane. L'eclisse was a film about a still young and aspiring woman albeit disaffected.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: zigzagged with Corrado Zeller. Most of the time he is very understanding and sympathetic with Giuliana however in the end he is somewhat too insistent.
  • Dumb Blonde Invoked then subverted with Mimi who makes caustic remarks about Max to his wife. Totally averted as Mimi might be actually a redhead too.
  • The End: FINE in Italian which means "end".
  • Establishing Character Moment: Giuliana in the first scene buys a bitten sandwich from a worker. Even though the worker at first refuses to sell her the item saying that a food shop is just around the corner he then cedes her the sandwich. Also he at first rejects the money which she insists he should take for the food but then he accepts a bill. Giuliana offers the bitten sandwich to her son. When the latter refuses she proceeds to eat it herself. This fragment establishes that she is troubled and probably inadequate but honest and caring.
  • Exposition: Ugo, the husband of Giuliana, relates to Corrado , her future one-time lover, about her former accident and her plans to open a shop of an unspecified nature. It is not immediately clear why he does that other than for the sake of the exposition.
    • Also the subsequent monologue of Corrado about his own story told to Ugo.
  • Fan Disservice: Sex scene of Giuliana and Corrado which is very clinical and never exciting
  • Fiery Redhead: Mimi.
  • Funny Background Event: Giuliana's house stands near the water with the passing ships seen through the window. In one scene her position implies that a big ship visible in the other half-screen moves directly into her.
  • Generic Guy: Ugo, the husband of Giuliana, does not have any special character features.
  • Green and Mean: Subverted, Giuliana sports a green coat, However she is not mean but mentally troubled.
  • Happy Ending: Pretty oddly this trope is invoked in this film as opposed to the whole of Antonioni's filmography. It is implied in the last scene that Giuliana learnt to cope with her psychological problems.
  • Housewife Monica Vitti, now two years older than in L'eclisse plays a housewife unlike in the three previous films for Antonioni. She is not the most exemplary one but cares for her son enough.
  • Hell Is That Noise:
    • Giuliana is woken by the strange noise from the her son's bedroom. It proves to be a construction kit robot rolling back and forth.
    • The film also starts as well as ends with unnatural, disharmonic sounds.
  • I Have This Friend: Giuliana relates Corrado the story of her attempted suicide pretending that it is about her acquaintance. Lampshaded when she confesses that she herself is "that girl" and Corrado answers that he realized that.
  • I'm Having Soul Pains: Giuniana once says that her hair aches.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Corrado first says that he is from Milan then corrects that he is from Trieste.
  • Karma Houdini: Marital infidelity does not result in any negative consequences for Giuliana.
  • Leg Focus: Mimi stretches her legs during the shack party.
  • MacGuffin: Corrado's quest to hire laborers to work in Argentina. It does not lead anywhere.
  • Mood Whiplash: A scene illustrating a tale narrated by Giuliana to the son. The colors in this scene are bright and pure, it is sunlit. The rest of the film looks very dim and gloomy.
    • Also the episode of the party where they break the wall of the shack.
  • My God, You Are Serious!: Giuliana at a party drinks the contents of several "aphrodisiac" eggs and ostensibly jokingly proclaims that she's become aroused. Later she confesses to Ugo that it was indeed the case.
  • New Technology Is Evil: All technology in general here.
  • No Antagonist: Except for the madness
  • Non-Answer: Zigzagged with Corrado Zeller who at first gives the one to Giuliana when she (suddenly) asks him whether he is a leftist or a rightist. He first says that he the words are too blunt to describe his ideas. Then he adds that he believes in humanity, a little less in justice and a little more in progress. Then he admits that he probably believes in the socialism. He wraps up that he first of all wants to live in the just world and to have a clear conscience which he does. He ends the speech asking Giuliana "are you satisfied?". She merely answers that his speech sounded like a good little group of words.
  • Ominous Fog: A non-horror version. After the end of the shack party suddenly the fog becomes dense outdoors. Disconcerted Giuliana starts the car and drives into the fog stopping at the very end of the pier and miraculously not falling into water.
  • One-Woman Wail:
    • Performed by an offscreen creature in the tale of deserted beach sequence. Word of God, in this case of Giuliana who told her son the tale, answered his question "Who was singing?" with "Everything was singing".
    • Also the same one-woman wail replaces the scratching noise in the beginning.
  • Only One Name: Played straight with everyone, subverted with Corrado Zeller only.
  • Only Sane Man: Max when people start to break the barrack where he invited them but which already does not belong to him. He asks the others stop but they do not.
  • Parental Neglect: Decisively averted by Giuliana despite her apparent mental illness. she cares for her son.
  • The Power of Love: Inverted by the psychiatrist who attended to Giuliana. He said that it was she who needed to love someone to help herself.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: The soundtrack does not feature any music, however it includes ominous drones and noises. The exception is the colorful scene in the imaginary land from Giuliana's tale where "everything sings".
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: The penultimate scene with a Turkish sailor is not subtitled.
  • Redhead In Green: Monica Vitti is a (sort of) redheard here and in the opening scene she wears a green coat. She wears the same coat in the closing scene set in the same place.
    • Mimi who might be a redhead sports a green jumper too in a barrack party scene.
  • Red Is Violent: In this case for the psyche of the main character (Giuliana), who is further depressed by various technosphere objects painted red.
  • Sex for Solace: That's what Giuliana tries It does not work.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Averted. As a result the viewer receives a very unsexy sex scene.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Most characters are with their both feet in the cynical field. Giuliana is simply mentally unstable. Her remarks after her adultery with Corrado are still quite cynical.
  • Spoiled Brat: Arguably Valerio, the sun of Giuliana who in one scene malingers a leg paralysis from polio. One might suppose that he simply feels abandoned, in the other scenes he is quite obedient.
  • The Stoic: Ugo, the husband of Giuliana who quietly supports her. Zigzagged as he does not return immediately from London when he learns that his wife has an auto accident.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Arguably Giuliana is that. Then again her husband is a rather secondary character in the film.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Averted in a very interesting Establishing Character Moment. Giuliana buys a bitten sandwich from a worker then in the subsequent scene eats it making several bites. Then cut to the long shot where her son runs up to her with a pan and as he joins her she drops the remains of the sandwich. As she eats some of it, this is not this trope. Also Giuliana might have wasted the sandwich but it is not perfectly good to begin with, as she buys it second hand and it is already bitten.
  • Trash the Set: The party in the shack ends when the bourgeois guests start to destroy the inner walls of the structure belonging to the subordinate of the one of them. It is implied that he will be payed for the damage by his boss but their behavior is still moderately detestable.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Giuliana. It should reflect her general distressed condition.
  • Unnecessarily Creepy Robot: A somewhat ominous looking robot made from the construction kit in the bedroom of Giuliana's son.