SENSO (82) (second viewing: 75)

Directed by: Luchino Visconti (1954)

Starring: Alida Valli, Farley Granger, Massimo Girotti

The Pitch: Venice, 1866 : an Italian noblewoman falls for an officer of the occupying army.

Theo Sez: Ravishingly beautiful (even on an ancient, fuzzy tape, flickering to b&w every few minutes), a triumph of Technicolor to rank with BLACK NARCISSUS and THE THIEF OF BAGDAD : the title appears - in great swirling letters that fill the screen - over a theatre stage where an opera is being sung, against a cobalt-blue background fringed by a red velvet curtain (it's like Quentin Crisp's version of THE AGE OF INNOCENCE). That the film never chokes to death on its luscious grandiloquence is partly due to sharp dialogue (by Paul Bowles and Tennessee Williams) and because Visconti always finds something to play the love scenes off (the shadow of a wind-tossed curtain, the baying of dogs outside), but above all because, rather like his later DEATH IN VENICE (minus the kink), it's finally about the impossibility of romantic love - the way it invariably turns dirty and tawdry, just as political idealism turns into the ugliness of War. Not particularly well-plotted by conventional standards, but you have to look at it - as suggested by the riot of colours - as a dream rather than a story, everything about it a reflection of the heroine's emotional turmoil : the apparently gratuitous war scenes are the battle in her heart, the dark, twisty alleys of the final section the byways of her guilty conscience. Fragile, elusive, masterly ; cannot wait for the DVD... [Second viewing, November 2022 (i.e. about 25 years later): Always knew I'd overrated this, actually pleasantly surprised how well it stood up. A long night of the soul movie (like DEATH IN VENICE) where the protagonist just gets masochistically dragged through the murk for the sake of an impossible love - really not my kind of thing, yet it works (a) because it's operatic, a tale so painful and pathetic it could only work as opera (the soundtrack is constantly alive with music, soldiers carousing, dogs barking), (b) because smirking lightweight Farley Granger makes it clear from the start that the lover is unworthy, and (c) because it's just so lavishly, impossibly beautiful, the colours and compositions, the production design, the colour of the dawn sky when the Contessa leaves her house for the last time but also the way clumps of people have been arranged in the frame, watching her go. "You shouldn't love me. Nobody should," says the man with the "butterfly heart", promising lightness and pleasure, an escape from idealism and weighty political issues (is that so wrong, really?) - but ends up a self-loathing libertine telling the contessa he's not interested in 'her' new world, the world of an independent (and republican) Italy; all quite intriguing, in a film directed by an aristocrat who (like the contessa) has a complicated relationship with this new world, made by three gay men (Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles being the others) with a presumably personal slant on the destructive power of the male libido. The plotting is choppy, the couple's dialogue scenes get a bit tedious - but then she just gives up and succumbs to passion, and that's the whole point.]