Recovering from the depression that prompted a suicide bid, Giuliana drifts into an affair with Corrado Zeller, an associate of her engineer husband Ugo, who is in Ravenna to recruit workers for an industrial enterprise in Patagonia.
Opinion is not only divided over the quality of Michelangelo Antonioni's first film after completing his celebrated `alienation' trilogy” (L’Avventura, L’Eclisse, La Notte) but also over his precise intentions. Many critics were content to see the film — in which Monica Vitti gives a devastating display of brittle vulnerability — as a furtherance of Antonioni's preoccupation with the dehumanising nature of modern society, with some even suggesting that he no longer had anything original to say about the human condition. Most applauded his use of colour to emphasise the ugliness of industrial architecture and the shallowness of contemporary culture, while Marxists and Greens respectively averred that he was denouncing capitalism and the reckless destruction of the environment.
But, rather than presenting Giuliana as a victim of soulless technology, Antonioni claimed that her problems lay in her failure to acclimatise to a brave new world. Thus, he insisted that the oil refinery, power plant and radar installation possessed a beauty that matched Ravenna's Byzantine past and that his bold colour symbolism was intended to highlight the exciting modernity of progress. There's no denying the brilliance of Antonioni's colour scheme, which was exploited for the same psychological purposes as the hostile Sicilian landscape in L'Avventura. His transformation of objects and vistas to conform to his emblematic design was also laudable, as was his astute shift from deep-focus photography to the utilisation of zoom lenses that flattened and distorted the image in the manner of abstract art. Even Giuliana's isolated island idyll was rendered in terms of a tawdry TV advertisement, complete with pseudo-Freudian overtones linking her neuroses with the onset of puberty (which invited comparisons with Hitchcock's approach in Marnie). But it's difficult to reconcile such a stance with Antonioni's allusions to Dante's Divine Comedy. Not only does Corrado recall Ulysses in the epic poem, but Ravenna was also the model for the earthly paradise at the summit of Purgatory. It could be argued that Antonioni was positing Chiassi's industrial landscape as a new Eden, but the more obvious implication was that it represented a foretaste of Hell.
Depressing, but expressive and affecting.