DVD Movie Review (Criterion Collection)
By our guest blogger, Aidan Thomas
Antonioni is the cinematic master of depicting isolation and alienation. His films and characters are so vividly disconcerted that it’s hard to keep from wondering why you're contented with your own circumstances. Sitting in an apartment watching a flat screen TV as his characters struggle to come to grips with modernization can be incredibly unsettling.
Ultimately, Antonioni’s films are successful because they make you question what you take for granted. In "Red Desert," recently remastered and digitally restored by the Criterion Collection, Antonioni explores the effects of modernization and industrialization on our sensory perception of the world. The result is bleak, as natural noises like birds, bugs, and even human interaction are replaced by the ambient otherworldly noise emitted by factories and other technological "advancements." I say "advancements" because throughout his films, Antonioni appears to question the concept itself and "Red Desert" is no exception.
In the film we see Giuliana (played by the always wonderful Monica Vitti) attempt to navigate the ever-changing landscape. Human interaction is no longer the defining characteristic of life. Now, in the modern world, our experience with industrialization seems to define our experience. The reach, noise and effects of industrialization are far reaching and Giulina’s attempts to escape them are feeble at best.
The film’s cinematography, arguably Antonioni’s best, is striking. Each shot paints an unsettling and dark picture of the intersection of technology with modern human experience. During one of the film’s most affecting scenes we see two people lose each other, both visually and aurally, as smoke erupts uncontrollably at the factory they are in. In "Red Desert," Antonioni seems to suggest that Industrialization has infiltrated our visual, aural and conceptual perception and the consequences are dire. Giuliana is alienated and lonely. She has a hard time keeping or holding a conversation with anyone else. Throughout the film, she says that she is "sick." Sick with what? In the film, Antonioni seems to suggest that modernization is the sickness, but what is the cure?
Antonioni’s own trust in film as a means of communication allows the audience room for interpretation. As a product of modernization, film offers Antonioni the opportunity to make "Red Desert" and explore these preoccupations. So can modernization be all bad? Maybe we just need to come to grips with the modern world and accept and embrace the changes modernization has wrought.
Whether you are for or against modernization and industrialization, the film’s motif is poignant. In the modern world, the noise of modernization has become ubiquitous. We take the screech of tires, the hum of refrigerators and buzz of the buzz of cell phones for granted. In fact, the absences of these noises, true silence, is unsettling. The world Antonioni portrays in "Red Desert" has been realized.
What are its consequences for the modern human experience?