The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A perfect setting for wedding dress trashing

with 10 comments

A film buff once accused me of caring too much about the plot in movies. “There’s so much more to it!” he argued. “Look at the cinematography, the score, the acting! The story is the least interesting in a film!”

Perhaps he was right. Thinking back at the movies I’ve watched and reviewed the last year, it seems to me as if I have a much harder time to embrace a movie if it’s unclear what it’s really about.

I can appreciate and admire films that are pieces of art that you’re supposed to hold up and contemplate. But when I can’t engage with a film at an emotional level, I have a very hard time to stay awake as I watch it. To keep my interest I need to get something to hold on to and something that stirs a reaction – such as fear, joy, surprise, sadness or fear. Something. Campfire storytellers know how to do it.

But Red Desert – my first encounter with Michelangelo Antonioni – doesn’t offer any story, at least not that I notice. It’s a case of an artifact, which you admire but don’t consume.

Colors and melancholy
For being a film that depictures an industrial landscape that looks like something made up in a five year plan in the former Soviet Union, Red Desert is strangely pretty. There’s something about the way that Antonioni uses the colors that attracts me.

The woman in a green coat looks like a plant. The factory behind her spits out some kind of poisonous yellow smoke in the background. The sense of melancholy and meaninglessness is intense.

I have no idea of what’s going on. The woman appears to be unhappy. Is she mentally ill or just frustrated with her marriage? She starts a relationship with some guy who isn’t her husband, but it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere. I look at the sea. I look at a house with intensely red walls. It probably represents something, but what?

My thoughts start to wander. I think about the new wedding tradition I read about recently where brides look out gritty environments where they have their picture taken while brutally trashing the wedding dresses.

The setting in Red Desert would be perfect for wedding photography. Contrasted with the ugly background, all women look gorgeous.

And that’s all I have to say. Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll have forgotten it completely. Only the green coat and the red wall and the yellow smoke will remain. But to me, that’s not enough. I want more than this from a movie.

Red Desert (Il deserto rosso, Michelangelo Antonioni, IT, 1964) My rating: 2,5/5

Written by Jessica

September 28, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Red Desert

10 Responses

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  1. I haven’t seen this one, but in general I’m with you. Aside from Fantasia and similar works, a film has to do more than look pretty. A movie is prose, not poetry, and the plot is paramount.

    Morgan R. Lewis

    September 28, 2012 at 2:49 am

    • Well… I guess I’m not completely insensitive to the poetry side of films. There are movies that I’ve loved over the years that have been more poetic than action packed. Wings of Desire comes to my mind. Not to speak of the documentary Koyaanisqatsi. But when it’s as bloodless and slow as this is… it becomes a bit of a drag. It escapes me.

      Jessica

      September 28, 2012 at 7:51 am

  2. This seems to be a very individual trait, weather you prefer the visual or the cerebral. I’m with you plotwise, but would still argue (based on what I’ve read from you so far) that you seem to be leaning towards character driven plots as opposed to narratively driven ones? (Feels like I butchered the english language beyond comprehension here, so I hope you understand what I’m getting at)

    Sofia

    September 28, 2012 at 5:56 am

    • Hm… I’ve never payed much thought to this and I’m not entirely sure if I understand the difference between narratively driven and character driven plots correctly. But when I think about it: yes, I really enjoy fims where the most important journey from point a to point b is the one that takes place in the mind and heart of the character. Sure, a rollercoster ride can be fun from time to time (Mission Impossible IV), but they’re just for the moment. It’s the other kind of storytelling that stays with you forever.

      Jessica

      September 28, 2012 at 7:58 am

  3. For me, film is a medium that is used to tell stories. This makes the plot important to me, and things like score and cinemetography are tools that are used to tell the story. Sure the tools are important, but they can’t be used to prop up a bad story, at least for me.

    scotth

    September 28, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    • I think there are exceptions. But in this case I was a bit lost. I’m sure I’ll forget it very soon since there’s nothing to hang up my memory on.

      Jessica

      October 1, 2012 at 7:40 am

  4. Fantastic. I haven’t seen this film but I totally get it.

    fernandorafael

    September 30, 2012 at 2:16 am

    • Well a fan of the film might give you another version of it. But this was how I saw it.

      Jessica

      October 1, 2012 at 7:41 am

  5. “Perhaps he was right.” Actually, that person was dead wrong. While movies are a visual medium, they are nothing more than a random selection of images if they don’t have a story to tie them together. Might as well be watching your neighbor’s slide show of their vacation pics. Can those pictures be beautiful? Of course. But a set of beautiful pictures and nothing else does not make a movie.

    Chip

    October 6, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    • I’m not quite as cathegorical in my statements. But yeah, I’m into stories myself. Without a good story it’s hard for a film to stick with me.

      Jessica

      October 7, 2012 at 9:45 pm


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