Monday, November 5, 2018

Visconti's Senso

Luciano Visconti’s Senso (1954) currently in revival at Film Forum begins with a riot that breaks out at a performance of Verdi’s patriotic opera Trovatore in Venice's famed Fenice, during the Risorgimento. Senso is plodding and doesn’t carry the weight of the great Visconti masterpiece The Leopard (1963), which also takes place in a similar period of Italian history. Both movies deal with the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of nationalism, but Senso is far more perverse. It’s heroine Countess Livia Serpieri (Alida Valli) falls for the reprobate Austrian Franz Mahler (Farley Granger). Visconti brilliantly frames Mahler’s reflection in a mirror as his character says, “I like looking at myself to make sure it’s me.” He’s a lady’s man and eventually a drunk and his whole life is devoted to the satiation of appetite. The countess sacrifices everything for him and also ends up betraying her ideals. In a climactic scene she finds herself demeaned and degraded by a man who mocks her as he cavorts with a local prostitute. The sexual depravity and violence of Rocco and His Brothers (1960) is prefigured in this drunken reunion. Wandering through the crowds of drunken soldiers in the streets of Verona in her elegant gown, the countess, a loss soul, recalls another casualty of the romantic agony, Truffaut’s Adele H (1975). Senso’s influence is also felt in Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution (1964) whose conflicts are also manifest in an opera house (in that case Parma) where another Verdi opera, Macbeth, is playing. The movie’s neorealist battle scenes are like paintings come to life. However, the beauty of Senso and its weakness is that it never really transcends its operatics. The current version, with subtitles by Michael F. Moore and Bruce Goldstein, includes some of the original English language dialogue written by Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles.

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