The five loneliest landscapes in the films of Michelangelo Antonioni

From London parks to Death Valley, Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni had an eye for filming the world’s lonely places.

Adam Scovell
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Michelangelo Antonioni on location for Zabriskie Point (1970)

Michelangelo Antonioni on location for Zabriskie Point (1970)

Michelangelo Antonioni knew how vital settings are to filmmaking. Throughout his career, the Italian director made certain that the narratives of his films traversed places with an eye for originality. Whether filming rocky islands in the Mediterranean, lonely Italian streets, the California desert or eerily empty London parks, he treated film locations with the same care and attention as his scripts and performances.

More often than not, Antonioni’s choice of location reflected the troubled, even hollow, lives of his many characters. These were not places where such narratives of breakup and solitude unfolded by chance, but landscapes explicitly connected to – and sometimes even the very reason for – the melancholy and frustration of the lives on show.

With this in mind, here’s a handful of the loneliest landscapes found in Antonioni’s films.

The island in L’avventura (1960)

L’avventura (1960)

Following the disappearance of Anna (Lea Massari), L’avventura explores the sadness of her partner Sando (Gabriele Ferzetti) and Anna’s friend Claudia (Monica Vitti). The pair’s guilt over their affair finds some likeness with the film’s dominant settings, in particular the lonely Mediterranean island where Anna mysteriously vanishes.

For the most part, the landscapes of L’avventura are rocky and bare, and as unforgiving as the characters, both of whom are unable to leave their guilt behind and move on. Fittingly, they end up crying on a bench, in part overlooking Mount Etna. Like their perception of what has happened, the view is half obscured.

The golf course in La notte (1961)

La notte (1962)

For much of La notte, Antonioni follows the wanderings of a disintegrating couple (Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau) around empty streets and scrubland. By the time daybreak arrives after their long night of walking and talking, the pair find themselves alone on a golf course in the early morning mist, unable to come to terms with their infidelities. An old love letter is read out before the pair fall into a sandy bunker in an awkward, loveless kiss.

The director makes the most of this odd landscape, as manufactured and falsely pleasant as the couple’s final, confused embrace on the ground.

The factory land in Red Desert (1964)

Red Desert (1964)

Antonioni’s first colour film showcases the director’s eye for idiosyncratic landscapes, in particular those edgelands often kept out of films because of their messy, unkempt nature.

Opening with an array of images of an industrial complex, Red Desert swaps the more lavish settings of Antonioni’s previous films for a desolate yet beautiful assemblage of mud, concrete and grey trees. In order to achieve this barren aesthetic, and to contrast with the singular presence of star Monica Vitti’s colourful attire, the director famously painted the very landscape, darkening trees to a deathly colour and heightening the morbid palette of the land.

The park in Blowup (1966)

Blowup (1966)

London has never seemed as vibrant as in Antonioni’s adaptation of Julio Cortázar’s short story, yet its swinging clubs and hip fashion studios are interspersed with increasingly emptied streets until eventually our protagonist, Thomas (David Hemmings), finds his way to the film’s famously eerie park. Here, the lonely paths and grassland make for a perfect impromptu photo shoot of an unknown couple.

But what does Thomas really capture in his pictures, so important that the woman caught in them, Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), desperately wants them back? Maryon Park in Charlton was used for the shoot and still retains the same unnerving quietude of the film to this day.

The desert in Zabriskie Point (1970)

Zabriskie Point (1970)

Antonioni faced problems when shooting Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, ironically because of the presence of people rather than an absence of them. In one of the most famous sequences, a love scene between the two leads becomes so intense that the valley around them turns into a writhing land made up of loving couples, much to the dismay of the government.

Contrary to this, however, is the film’s final sequence, which builds on the film’s isolated qualities and the solitude of its vast setting. Daria (Daria Halprin) is watching the lavish house of industrialist Lee Allen (Rod Taylor), a huge property built into the side of the rock. She steps out of her car and watches the house violently explode multiple times before segueing into a dreamscape of destroyed objects soundtracked by Pink Floyd.

Upon waking from this vision, she drives off alone into the valley as if nothing else is left in her world. It’s perhaps the director’s loneliest ending and certainly one of the most dramatic landscapes he ever filmed in.

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