When you think of Italy, moody landscapes and a sombre colour palette aren’t necessarily two things you’d associate with the country that prides itself on ‘La Dolce Vita’. However, Italian film Il Deserto Rosso is definitely an exception. Released in 1964 and still recognised as a cult classic, we’re currently feeling more than a little amore for the female lead, Monica Vitti.
Cast as the neurotic Giuliana, Vitti’s smouldering gaze and winter wardrobe of scarves and knits sets the tone for an eerie film from start to finish. Based in a run-down industrial area of Italy, Giuliana is married to Ugo, who manages a local petrochemical plant.
After a short stint in hospital, Giuliana is mentally unstable and anxious about the world around her, questioning her role as wife, mother or just about anybody. Embarking on an affair with her husband’s colleague, Corrado, Giuliana only becomes more anxious, having vivid dreams and feeling unable to cope.
The film raises some important questions about the pressures of modern life (especially with the sudden influence of technology) as well as mental health and existential doubt. Accompanied with an unsettling backdrop of electrical towers, docked ships and a strange electronic soundtrack, Il Deserto Russo almost veers on horror film territory.
Vitti embodies her disturbed character with sultry, Italian charm and seduction which was typical of its era. Switching easily from forlorn to flirty, it’s Vitti’s quaffed red ’do that we’re most impressed by. Flicked on the shoulders, side-parted and ever so subtly beehived, her red hair has all the volume and texture of Brigitte Bardot, with non of the obvious blonde bombshell-ness - making us even more sold on it.
Visually, the film is a tonal masterpiece - apparently the director Michelangelo Antonioni even painted trees and grass to match with the colours of the industrial setting - and Vitti’s appearance is no different. Deep reds blend with chocolate browns, beige and grey, and Vitti’s auburn sweep only adds to the perfect palette. After Il Deserto Ross, Monica went on to take the bombshell leap and dyed her red locks platinum blonde - but we’re much more hung up on the natural red.
Il Deserto Rosso was the first colour film for iconic director, Michelangelo Antonioni, who later went on to shake up arthouse cinema with his tale of swinging London, Blow Up (featuring perpetual Glasshouse muse, Jane Birkin). Antonioni often put the viewer on edge, not afraid to touch on uncomfortable subjects in scenes and we like the dark side of Il Deserto Ross and particularly Vitti’s character. Plus her cosy look is giving us some serious cold weather wardrobe inspiration as we wait for Spring to leap into action. Monica Vitti, we salute you!
Cover image: La Cooltura
Words: Lucy Vincent