“There’s something terrible about reality.”

Another wonderful-looking Antonioni movie: characters full of ennui, atrocious dubbing and subtle electronic music by Vittorio Gelmetti.

Monica Vitti (a couple years after Avventura/Notte/Eclisse) starts out acting homeless and desperate, begging (actually buying) a sandwich off a striking worker and devouring it behind some trees. Turns out she’s comfortably married to factory owner Ugo, but she seems to have whatever Julianne Moore had in Safe mixed with run-of-the-mill bored-housewife craziness (husband says she hasn’t been quite right since a car accident).

Zeller (Richard Harris of Caprice, which probably isn’t how most folks remember him) is the new guy in town, meeting Ugo inside a rackety, color-coded steam-spewing factory to talk about replacing the strikers. Soon enough the three of them are joining a bald friend and two other women at a would-be-orgy at a beach house (actually a red shack over a polluted river). Monica thinks she’ll open a shop, is painting the place but still doesn’t know what she will sell, tries to confide her feelings in a somewhat ambiguous Harris. I’m not sure what it all meant, but Antonioni shoots the hell out of it, in hazy, polluted color.

From the film within the film: a story told to Vitti’s son:

Criterion says it’s a “look at the spiritual desolation of the technological age”, “a nearly apocalyptic image of its time”. M. Le Fanu:

Red Desert is the most ambitious of all of Antonioni‚Äôs attempts to ground the condition of our modern existence in a theory of alienation… on the one hand, Antonioni would say, the world being created by the advance of technology is undoubtedly beautiful: we see it in the fantastic structural shapes thrown up by science and industry… on the other hand – and here the pounding soundtrack of the film’s opening ten minutes makes its inescapable comment – this new world is very close to hell.

The first time I watched this, I felt bad for not liking it. Just… nothing ever happened, and it seemed to mostly consist of people standing theatrically far apart from each other and looking away. Bored me to death. Then I embraced my dislike of L’Avventura since I found that more and more Italian films made me feel tired and annoyed. And geez, can those mofos not lip-synch properly. I will never get over that. But watching L’Eclisse and talking to Dawn convinced me to give this one another go, and so I have…

And what a masterpiece it is! Beautiful from start to finish. I guess knowing what I was in for (pace-and-plot-wise) and knowing what to look for (camera compositions, not an engaging story) really helped. Played most of the commentary track afterwards and that helped too.

There is a story here. Gorgeous Claudia (Monica Vitti) vacations with her friends Anna (reconnecting with fiance Sandro after months away) and Giulia (with her drab husband) on a cruise. At a rocky island, Anna disappears and never returns. Claudia and Sandro search everywhere for her, extending the search to the mainland, where they finally fall for each other and give up on Anna.

Story’s not so bad, characters not as horrible as all that, just can’t believe that Antonioni can set up EVERY shot so beautifully.