Red Desert: Antonioni's Masterpiece at BAM

BAMcinématek presents a new 35mm print of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Technicolor masterpiece Red Desert (1964).

Antonioni’s first work in color, Red Desert (Il deserto rosso) stands as a formally exquisite centerpiece in an impressive, singular career. Winner of the Golden Lion Award for Best Picture at the Venice Film Festival, Red Desert remains one of the Italian master’s finest accomplishments, an anti-romantic melodrama.
 
The film stars an auburn-haired Monica Vitti, the 1960s European art house icon and Antonioni’s cipher, muse, lover, and cinematic alter ego, who collaborated with the director on five films, including his renowned “trilogy”: L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), and L’Eclisse (1962). Vitti plays a lost woman and young mother in a desolate mining town who looks to others for solace and comfort, but finds none. Irish acting legend Richard Harris (before his turn as King Arthur in Camelot) is a mining engineer who falls for her.

Red Deserts fragmented story may have been somewhat secondary to the director’s interest in formalism, but Vitti and Harris give the haunting film its powerful emotional center.

Antonioni co-wrote the screenplay with the great Italian scribe Tonino Guerra (L’Avventura, Amarcord, Nostalghia), whose work can also be seen in BAMcinématek’s current Francesco Rosi retrospective, Citizen Rosi (Aug 3—21). 
 
“The film was born on the spot and the color was born with it—the industrial ambience of the film… My intention was to express the beauty of this world where even the factories can be very beautiful… The line, the curves of the factories and their chimneys are perhaps more beautiful than a line of trees, of which the eye has already seen too much,” Antonioni said of the look of Red Desert.

With help of titan cinematographer Carlo Di Palma (Divorce Italian Style, Blow-Up, Hannah and Her Sisters), Antonioni gave the Technicolor palette a sulfur-yellow glaze, making it one of the most innovative uses of color cinematography to date. To complement the misty scheme that enshrouds his characters, he went so far as to meticulously paint the streets, trees, and grass to achieve his desired effect. 

Antonioni’s color debut is also his first work featuring a synthesized electronic score (courtesy of Vittorio Gelmetti) accompanying traditional music by longtime collaborator Giovanni Fusco.