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Red Desert (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Richard Harris , Monica Vitti , Michelangelo Antonioni    Unrated   Blu-ray
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Product Description

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As Michelangelo Antonioni's first color film, Red Desert continues the director's Italian neorealist examinations of human anxieties induced by industrialization. Made in 1964, the film chronicles a neurotic woman, Giuliana (Monica Vitti), who suffers from loneliness and estrangement from her factory worker husband, Ugo (Carlo Chionetti). While in the opening scenes Giuliana totes around her son, Valerio (Valerio Bartoleschi), a majority of the film focuses not on her role as mother but on her flirtation with Ugo's coworker, Corrado Zeller (Richard Harris). Throughout, human conflict unfolds in front of massive industrial landscapes that depict machinery and pollution to excessive degrees. Giuliana, established as somewhat of an unreliable narrator after she admits existential angst caused by a car accident that was intentional on her part, comes to look like the most sympathetic character by the end, compared to the others' cold distance. At the root of her illness is a woman who "wanted it all," as she says, when really all she wants is some purpose and connection. Shots capturing oily pools, electrical wires blocking the sky, and blaringly loud factory gear reinforce Giuliana's disconnect. Later in the film, one sees the familial repercussions of her inability to get a grasp on love, as little Valerio reenters the story. Even the title, Red Desert, sets up this film as a study in how color can manipulate the viewer's emotions. Each shot, each scene, is so carefully composed that it has an almost eerie staged feel. A wonderfully funny, sexy sequence mid-film, in which Ugo, Giuliana, and Corrado visit a shack populated by bored, sex-crazed girls, lightens what is a rather melancholic portrayal of brewing madness.

Criterion Collection's treatment of Red Desert is excellent, as well. Two short black-and-white Antonioni documentaries, "N.U." and "Gente del Po," illustrate this director's earlier attempts at capturing on film the modern dilemma facing humans at the hands of burgeoning technology. Two archival interviews, one with Antonioni and one with Vitti, are full of rich anecdotal background information about the inspiration for Red Desert and L'Avventura. Even the film's dailies are included in the supplements so one can see how Antonioni composed and pulled off his amazing camera work. --Trinie Dalton

Product Description

Michelangelo Antonioni's landmark work on the isolating effects of modern culture focuses on a depressed housewife (Monica Vitti) and her desperate search for meaning in her life. In addition to stunning color cinematography, the film features a haunting electronic score. With Richard Harris and Carlo Chionetti. 117 min. Widescreen (Enhanced); Soundtrack: Italian Dolby Digital mono; Subtitles: English; audio commentary; interviews; outtakes; theatrical trailer. In Italian with English subtitles.

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative look at the new industrial world... Sept. 24 2010
By Edmonson TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Blu-ray|Verified Purchase
"Red Desert" (1964) is Antonioni's first venture into color film. The film is about a neurotic woman (Monica Vitti) who has been in a car accident and is having trouble adjusting to the new industrial world that is the post-war Italy. The film beautifully photographs the industrial world with its architectural monoliths and poisonous pools of water and yellow clouds of smoke. The Russian director Tarkovsky would take some of his cues from this movie when he went on to film "Stalker". Antonioni was influenced by the abstract American artists like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, and Antonioni often employs various techniques to flatten the visual space using the telephoto lens, and atmospheric effects, like fog. In this way the environments are made to be just as important as the characters who inhabit them. Antonioni would even spray paint the ground and the trees in order to color thelandscape to fit his vision. At times the realism portrayed appears surreal, and electronic music adds to the alien quality of the industrial environments that the people find themselves surrounded by which sometimes gives the film an almost sci-fi quality. This is an often bleak, but thoughtful film, that portrays a humanity learning to live in a new order surrounded by technology and industry.

This Criterion release is has been beautifully remastered in 1080p, and is in its original monaural in Italian with English subtitles. The aspect ratio is 1.85:1. There is an informative commentary by Italian scholar DAvid Forgacs, as well as archival interviews with Antonioni and Monica Vitti. There are also two short documentaries by Antonioni: Gente del Po, and N.U., plus a booklet with an essay by film writer Mark Le Fanu, as well as an interview conducted by Jean-Luc Godard, and writings by Antonioni on Gente del Po and N.U.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Bravo! April 14 2013
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
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By K. Gordon TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:DVD
Breathtaking images, for the first time Antonioni's career in color. I'd be happy to have still frames from this framed on my wall. But the acting and writing didn't match the power of the images for me, at least on first viewing.

Monica Vitti is a housewife losing her mind, who quickly (and without clear reason) obsesses a badly dubbed Richard Harris, who is visiting Vitti's husband on business. What makes this less powerful for me than L'Venturra and L'Ecisse is here the characters talk a lot more, and a lot of the dialogue is stilted and false sounding; way too full of `meaning' when the images are already so symbolic. And while Vitti is a good actress, she's not Liv Ulmann or Meryl Streep. But where it fails as drama, it's amazing as storytelling through images. Every time everyone shut up, I was immediately drawn back in.
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By K. Gordon TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:DVD
Breathtaking images, for the first time Antonioni's career in color. I'd be happy to have still frames from this framed on my wall. But the acting and writing didn't match the power of the images for me, at least on first viewing.

Monica Vitti is a housewife losing her mind, who quickly (and without clear reason) obsesses a badly dubbed Richard Harris, who is visiting Vitti's husband on business. What makes this less powerful for me than L'Venturra and L'Ecisse is here the characters talk a lot more, and a lot of the dialogue is stilted and false sounding; way too full of `meaning' when the images are already so symbolic. And while Vitti is a good actress, she's not Liv Ulmann or Meryl Streep. But where it fails as drama, it's amazing as storytelling through images. Every time everyone shut up, I was immediately drawn back in.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  51 reviews
88 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Study Jan. 2 2000
By Adrian Heathcote - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
The usual cliche about Antonioni films is that they are studies of bored and alienated people, and are themselves vague and uninteresting. This line was started by Pauline Kael and is repeated by Leonard Maltin above, with not a second thought. But it is utterly wrong, and never more so than in the case of Red Desert. The main character Giuliana (Monica Vitti) is not bored - she is if anything too sensitively engaged with the world. She suffers from it as an artist suffers, feeling it in every part of her. (Her point of view is represented by Antonioni's careful abstract compositions, his beautiful use of colour.) But she also feels the lack of her husband's and son's love and it is this that drives her into an to attraction to Corrado (Richard Harris). He in turn is attracted to her and pretends to a closeness that he doesn't fully feel. The dynamics of this seduction are beautifully observed and movingly real.
But it is the character of Giuliana that drives the film. She seems to possess an integrity in her suffering that sets her apart. Antonioni seems to be searching her soul as he allows the camera to dwell on her expressions of hurt and desperation (as Godard did with Anna Karina). And Monica Vitti is so beautiful that it is ultimately painful to watch her. But as for the standard opinion - the only people who could be bored by this film are those who are bored with feeling itself. This is a masterpiece of observed sensitivity - a study of the heart's war on consciousness. It must be seen.
37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Blu-ray: The final collaboration between Antonioni and his muse Monica Vitti is magnificent! July 16 2010
By Dennis A. Amith (kndy) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Blu-ray
In 1964, Michelangelo Antonioni (who has earned the nickname "the Master of Alienation") screened his film "Il deserto rosso" (Red Desert) at the 1964 Venice Film Festival and the director took home the highly coveted Golden Lion award as well as the FIPRESCI Prize.

The Italian modernist director was known for his radical new style, not following any convention of filmmaking and most of all, characters and events are disconnected. Known for his trilogy, beginning with "L'avventura" (1960), the film was an international success and would introduce the world to the actress Monica Vitti, a woman who would appear as the main character in several of his films. Antonioni returned with "La Notte" (1961) starring Jeanne Moreau, Marcello Mastroianni and Monica Vitti which focused on the slow death of a marriage and final of the trilogy "L'Eclisse" would focus on the alienation of man in the modern world.

"Red Desert" is the fourth and final film that Antonioni's muse Monica Vitti would be featured in a film of his (the director would move on to focus his film on a male character). The film would also feature the director filming in color for the first time.

VIDEO:

"Red Desert" is presented in 1080p (1:85:1 Aspect Ratio). According to Criterion, the new HD transfer for "Red Desert" was created on a Spirit HD 2K Datacine from the original 35mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.

It's important to note that Antonioni wanted to capture a certain look. From Pastel colors, we see the grays in the sky, in fact trees and grass were painted gray to convey the solitude of the area. Colors are usually seen in paintings on walls or on cylinders and they standout amongst the grays but yet, it's a look that dreary and gives us a sense of what the industrialized scenery looks like or how we see things through Giuliana's eyes.

For the most part, the film looks very good in producing this industrial area that is lacking any vitality. I was told that the BFI Blu-ray release has a lighter greenish blue tint but I have not seen the BFI release to compare. I did notice a brown line (possibly a few seconds of film damage) around an hr. and five minutes into the film but it's not long at all. That was probably the only blemish I have seen while watching the film.

The film contains a good amount of grain and for the most part, this 1964 film definitely looks very good on Blu-ray.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

"Red Desert" is presented in LPCM Italian monaural. According to Criterion, the monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm optical soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, crackle was attenuated using Audiocube's integrated audio workstation.

Dialogue is clear through the center channel but I chose to have my audio set to stereo on all channels for a more immersive sound. There are no scenes that utilize any sound effects, it's pretty much a dialogue driven film that utilizes Giovanni Fusco's music score to initiate the mood. Overall, I didn't notice any audio problems whatsoever.

Subtitles are presented in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

"Red Desert - THE CRITERION COLLECTION #522' comes with the following special features:

* Audio commentary by Italian film scholar David Forgacs - An informative commentary in which film scholar David Forgacs talks about Antonioni's film technique but also evaluating various parts of the film and more.
* Archival interviews with director Michelangelo Antonioni - (12:03) An interview from 1965 with Antonioni for the TV series "Les ecrans de la ville" and comparisons of Vitti's performance in "Red Desert" and "L'Eclisse".
* Archival interviews with Monica Vitti - (9:18) An interview from 1990 with actress Monica Vitti for the TV series "Cinema Cinemas".
* Dailies from the original production - (27:58) Uncut and unfinished dailies presented in black and white and color without audio.
* Gente del Po - (11:00) A non-fiction documentary made between 1943 and 1947 looking at the relationship between individuals and their environment.
* N.U. - (11:40) A 1948 non-fiction documentary about the lives of street cleaners in Rome. N.U. stands for Nettezza Urbana, an Italian municipal cleaning service.
* Theatrical trailer - (3:52) The original theatrical trailer.

EXTRAS:

* 28-Page Booklet- Featuring an essay by film writer Mark Le Fanu, a reprinted interview with Antonioni conducted by Jean-Luc Godard, and writings by Antonioni on Gente del Po and N.U., also included is an essay "Landcapes of Memory" by Paul Ryan.

JUDGMENT CALL:

"Red Desert" is possibly one of those films in which many people will have different things that come into mind after watching it.

My feeling is that we are seeing a woman who is depressed, suicidal and there is something that is explored in this film that probably had no name for it back in 1964 and probably was not diagnosed. But the term given within recent times in the US to what Giuliana is going through is "Seasonal Affective Disorder". A state of depression that people go through during the winter and it can lead to major depression.

Giuliana is unstable, her surrounding is all gray. She wants to get out but this is her husband's job, his livelihood, his life. And her son, wants to be like dad.

The industrial area with its cold area, not a place for a young woman who wants to enjoy life. All that is around is grayness. The trees, the grass, the polluted ground and lakes, and it's important to note that this film was in 1964. Viewing this then, people were not mindful of the implications of pollution and its effects on people and the environment.

For us watching this film today, the first thing that comes to our minds are, look at the poisonous gas in the air from the industry. The fact that Ugo is joking around of how someone caught a fish in the lake that tasted like petroleum. It may seem like a joke then but we look at this today and we see it with a different mindset of how humanity literally took nature for granted.

So, we have to remove ourselves from the visual of industry and pollution and put ourselves in the mindset of the viewer back in 1964 and focus on the surroundings but mostly on Giuliana and her world crashing down on her.

When she tells the story of a woman in the sea to her son, we get a different visual than the life that Giuliana is living. In this dream story that she tells, the water is blue, the sand is white and the skies are of a vibrant blue. Almost like paradise, untouched by pollution or industrial or chemical plants. We get a sense that this is where Giuliana wants to be and wants to escape.

But she can't.

In many ways, "Red Desert" is like tragedy but with no fatality. It's a tragedy in the sense that we see a person slowly dying inside in which no one can help her. One can watch this film today and say, "why doesn't she just move out of the area?" but people must realize that in 1964, the women stuck close to their husbands and any suffering, many hid their painful emotions. She is tethered and feels confined in dreary place where there is no sunlight, the sounds of the area even drive her mad. She can tell her husband but his pragmatic way of dealing with her is nearly uncaring.

But Giuliana, she tries her best but we know its difficult. Everyone has a sense that something is wrong but no one has an answer for it. Nor does she, nor does her doctors.

The Blu-ray of "Red Desert" was a long time coming, many have wanted this release in the US and the fact that we get it on Blu-ray is fantastic. The special features gives us a really solid featurette on Antonioni's vision of the film but also through Vitti's featurette, their relationship. Also, we get two non-fiction short films from the director and also dailies showing us how things were behind-the-scenes of the filming of "Il Deserto Rosso".

Although, many people will always hold his trilogy films or "Blow Up" as his most memorable, I felt that with "Red Desert", director Michelangelo Antonioni has created a unique film.

In his words that he was trying to paint the industrial area as beautiful and that Giuliana must show how one must adapt to their new surroundings. There are some who can and some who can't.

Nearly 50 years later, we now see how Antonioni's "Red Desert", is a film that was possibly ahead of its time. It has given viewers a different meaning and a different perspective that goes beyond adapting to a new surrounding. We see a woman with a mental disease that is eating her up inside and no one knows how to deal with it but hope that time makes her better. That her time in the area makes her better.

For today's viewer, "Red Desert" may have a different meaning than what was intended in 1964 but for many of us, we can easily sympathize with Giuliana because many people if put in her position can easily go into depression and madness.

Overall, director Michelangelo Antonioni's "Il deserto rosso" (Red Desert) is a film that may not define his career but his efficacy in the life lived around an industrial world and a woman who feels as if she is submerging to nothingness due to the industrial world around her. The final collaboration between Antonioni and his muse Monica Vitti is magnificent!
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking Antonioni agoraphobia! Aug. 21 2000
By Miko - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
5 stars to the film itself! Here's a painful study of a woman's descent to lunacy amidst a desolate, uncaring and eventually foreboding backdrop of industrial waste. The character study is not unlike claustrophobic Polanski's Repulsion but dwells on Vitti's being consumed by her external surroundings as opposed to Deneuve's intensive plunge to schizophrenia. The pace and landscape is virtual Antonioni so it may not appeal to viewers who are not familiar with the director's works. One of his greatest works (L'Avventura remains his best to me). The only problem is the DVD transfer. I've seen the VHS and it has a consistent hue of orange. The DVD, although sharper and clearer, fluctuates in hues from blues in medium shots to reds and oranges in long shots. For a film that essentially deals with color (it was Antonioni's first color feature), the transfer was rather clumsy and careless. The sound is average but leaves a lot of room for improvement. Why didn't Criterion handle the transfer of this gorgeous film?
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A painter's movie on the isolation of women Aug. 14 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape|Verified Purchase
I sat through this film twice when it first came out in the1960's. I have seen it many times over the years. The painterly imagesare rich, lonely, and seductive. Antonioni is a painter making film. The plot is secondary. Monica Vitti is an ancient goddess trapped in the dead, souless corporate world. Being a trophy wife is making her crazy. Do the men we love ever really love us? Is modern man trapped in sterile scientific thinking and cut off from the passion of the archaic world? I love this beautiful movie. I'm so happy it's being released.
38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Basic Classic/Worthy Issue May 23 2010
By Sturgis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Blu-ray
It is good to have this film, one of Antonioni's finest and his first in color, available in a format that begins to do justice to its visual subtleties. It should really be seen in a theater, but a Criterion version is the next best thing. The last time I checked the critical consensus, Antonioni was still out of favor with the "with it" cognoscenti, but time will surely correct that oversight and give us good versions of all his films. We've had to put up with bad videos for so long. Those who are not familiar with Antonioni's work and need a clear story line should not waste their time, as Antonioni's films are all about character, mood, and that undefinable something extra which Monica Vitti captured so well in this film and the L'Avventura/La Notte/L'Eclisse trilogy.

The special features on this issue are unusually valuable: an interview with Antonioni, shortly after the film's release; an interview with Monica Vitti about her work and her relationship with him, which was supposedly first shown on French television in 1991, but which surely must have been done earlier, because there is no mention of his tragically debilitating stroke; good prints of Antonioni's two early neo-realist documentaries, which already show his care of visual composition; and some black and white dailies, which highlight Antonion's care in composition and the light and shadow substrate of his brilliant use of color. These features have added immeasurably to my understanding of a film, which only improves with time. Thank you Criterion!
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