The Red Desert (Deserto Rosso, Il) (1964)

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Released 11-Oct-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Animation
Featurette-Michelangelo Antonioni: A Portrait
Audio Commentary-By Rolando Caputo, Ass. lect. In Cinema Studies, La Trobe U
Trailer-An Autumn Afternoon, The Wind Will Carry Us, The Leopard
Trailer-Umberto D, The World
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1964
Running Time 113:00 (Case: 115)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Michelangelo Antonioni
Madman Entertainment
Starring Monica Vitti
Richard Harris
Carlo Chionetti
Xenia Valderi
Rita Renoir
Lili Rheims
Aldo Grotti
Valerio Bartoleschi
Emanuela Paola Carboni
Bruno Borghi
Beppe Conti
Julio Cotignoli
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Giovanni Fusco
Vittorio Gelmetti

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    A few months ago I looked at the first feature by Italian Director Michelangelo Antonioni, Story of a Love Affair (Cronaca di un amore). A spare Italian film noir, I commented that there were only a few elements of that film which foresaw the Antonioni films of the 60's - the languid, distant tales of isolation that made him an international success. Somewhat perversely, The Red Desert comes from the tail end of the defining 1960's works of Antonioni L' Aventura (1960), La Notte (The Night) (1961) and L'Eclisse (The Eclipse) (1962). These four films were not explicitly stated to be a quartet. However, they do have many similar elements dealing with themes of isolation in the modern world. Most notably they all featured Antonioni's muse Monica Vitti. Vitti is the perfect subject for these films as she effortlessly plays a somewhat lost quality. You feel that you could look into a crowded room and immediately seek her out as being the one who is uncomfortable. The plot for The Red Desert can be summed up in a few lines. Monica Vitti plays Giuliana who is married to Ugo (Carlo Chionetti), an engineer working in a large factory in an area of Ravenna, Italy, which is surrounded by other factories. Corrado (Richard Harris) visits Ugo to get his assistance in putting together a crew to staff his engineering project in South America. It is clear to all that Giuliana is not quite right! We learn that she was involved in a minor traffic accident some time back and was later hospitalised due to mental health problems. Giuliana and Corrado are drawn to each other and become engaged in something of an affair. These are really the only traces of a secure plot in the film. In fact, Antonioni is not particularly interested in the story, nor is he particularly concerned to draw deep and detailed performances from his cast. Vitti remains a complexity and the men in her life are diffident and almost emotionless. Rather, what makes this film justly famous and a true experience to watch is Antonioni's "direction" of the environment. This was Antonioni's first colour film and as film lecturer Rolando Caputo says in the excellent commentary which accompanies this DVD, it is a masterpiece of colour cinematography. Each frame of the film contains some exceptional visual information. Importantly, however, this is not just window dressing. Rather, the use of colours and stylised imagery is integral to the film.

    Firstly, there are the environments. Much of the film is set in and around factories and polluted waste lands. As the film begins Giuliana and her son walk across black stones, past smoking chimneys. The opening shot is just a taste of the starkness of the environments Antonioni puts on show. There are also poisoned lakes and the hulls of rusting ships. Just as important to the film is the camera work. A variety of lenses are on show here and Antonioni, with the help of the cinematographer, uses a good deal of out of focus shots. According to Rolando Caputo, Antonioni's clear intention was to create a subjective view for Giuliana of her environment. The effect is striking. Frequently Giuliana is seen in sharp focus against an unfocused background or foreground. In modern cinema where visual clarity and precision are paramount, it is quite refreshing to see a film by a great art house actor like Antonioni. There are images in the film which are unforgettable such as the surreal moment when the actors are in a tree-lined field and we see a ship sailing along an unseen waterway. The way that the shot is set up gives the effect that the ship is sailing through the forest! Finally, there is the extraordinary use of colour. Each scene is dominated or informed by a single colour or range of colours. Not only did Antonioni paint vast buildings in striking colours, he even painted the environment to suit his vision. The effect is amazing.

    A film cannot survive on images alone, however, for many the languid dream-like pace of the film will be entrancing. Those who like their films heavily plotted and with strongly discernable character motivations may get quickly bored with The Red Desert.

    It is not a perfect film. The choice of hot property Richard Harris (he had just done the very successful This Sporting Life) is a strange one. Harris's physical acting is nowhere on show in this film, which requires him to keep his emotions completely in check until the perverse love-making scene towards the end of the film. Harris does not speak Italian and his voice is dubbed throughout. The Red Desert is a strange and sometimes disturbing film. Giuliana is the subject of the movie and the film is often seen from her view, which is bleak and alienated. If you allow it to carry you it is not only a film of unforgettable visual beauty but also a film of great emotional power.

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Transfer Quality


    The Red Desert comes to DVD in a 1:85:1 transfer which is consistent with its original aspect ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced.

    On the DVD case this is described as an "all new restored print". Once again Madman Entertainment have done the arthouse DVD buying public in Australia a great favour by providing a transfer which does full justice to the original film.

    The print is beautifully clean with only insignificant artefacts on show. It's not flawless - there is a pesky hair at 39.05, and the grain is noticeable but well within expectations for a film of this era.

    There are no compression problems despite the fact that the film features numerous scenes of swirling fog which often play havoc with the DVD format.

    The colour which is so integral to the film has a matt look. There may be some fading that has gone on since the film first premiered but it also seems to be consistent with Antonioni's vision of Guliana's world. The flesh tones are as near and accurate as possible. This is a film of striking images and the transfer does it full justice. There are subtitles in English which are clearly rendered.

    Audio sync is generally good except, of course, for Richard Harris who is dubbed throughout and can be seen speaking his lines in English.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The Red Desert comes to DVD with an Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (224 KB/s) soundtrack.

    This is adequate for the film although it would be nice to hear the movie in surround sound. This is because Antonioni introduces discordant sound elements into the film to accompany some of the images, particularly the factory scenes. Aside from the discordant music by Giovanni Fusco there is also the clank of machinery and the sound of steam hissing through pipes. A more expansive sound mix may have intensified the alienating effect of some of the images but as it is, the mix is satisfactory.

    The dialogue is clearly rendered. As previously said, Richard Harris was dubbed and whilst the voice chosen may conflict with our memories of Harris' real voice, the result is quite acceptable.

Since preparing my review I have been made aware of some criticism of the sound quality of this DVD from the readers comments at DVD Beaver. Essentially the criticism is that the original cinematic soundtrack had a persistant hiss but at some stage an attempt was made to reduce the noise using noise reduction software, apparently in a "sledgehammer" like fashion. The reader who commented felt that the orginal hiss was less of a problem that the final track.

I have gone back to the DVD and listened to the scenes the subject of particular complaint. It is true that the sound lacks "life" but that is also true of most other films from the period. In its current state the soundtrack suits the strange mood of the film. Without wanting to start a debate on hiss versus over treatment, and not having seen the film in its original state, I am content with the film as it is.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Animation

    This is a matt look screen with some steaming pipes accompanied by discordant sound.

Featurette Michelangelo Antonioni : A Portrait. 55.37

    This lengthy feature is not so much a documentary but rather a chronology of Michelangelo Antonioni's career as seen through interviews, film excerpts and footage of him working and directing his various features. It is from the Timeless Cinema series and, like the similar features for Bertolucci and de Sica, it provides not only an effective career summary but also a chance to see footage that is almost inexplicably still in existence.

    The feature includes home movies of Antonioni working including scenes of him and Monica Vitti talking about cinema. There is not a great deal on The Red Desert although he mentions that it was 15 to 20 degrees below zero when they were filming some of the scenes amongst the toxic waste land of Ravenna. He refers to colour in the film as representing reality in a naturalistic way.

    Antonioni was a difficult and demanding director on set. It is interesting that he describes the film making process as a type of suffering.

Audio Commentary

    As said, the DVD features an audio commentary by Rolando Caputo, Associate Lecturer in cinema studies at La Trobe University and Co-Editor of On-Line Film Journal Senses of Cinema. Once again it is a joy to have a cinema expert giving the commentary. What is equally important and impressive is the skill with which Caputo renders the complex thoughts and ideas behind the movie into a commentary suitable for film students and mere enthusiasts alike. The commentary is a real joy and charts both the career of Antonioni, the ideas at work in the film and the practical steps that Antonioni took to bring the film to the screen. A worthy addition.


    The usual series of Director's Suite trailers are on show here.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   The Red Desert has not received deluxe treatment in Region 1. The DVD available there is a bare bones affair. In Region 2 the French edition has four short features, apparently about the film. Not being able to read French, I can't tell you exactly what they are. However, for the commentary on the Region 4 disc as well as the fascinating featurette this is the version you should purchase.


    A stunning example of an auteur at work, The Red Desert is both an example of what makes Antonioni a great director and also perhaps what there is not to like about his work. Fans of Italian cinema or Antonioni should consider it an essential purchase.

    The transfer is quite beautiful, bringing home the fascinating use of colour and stark environments.

    The extras are enjoyable and a useful addition to the DVD.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Monday, January 08, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DVR 630H-S, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TH-50PV60A 50' Plasma. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX - SR603
SpeakersOnkyo 6.1 Surround

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