August 16, 2011

Senso (Italy 1954)

The story of Visconti's "Senso" is pure melodrama with some depth only coming from the political background. An aging Italian countess falls for a young and attractive Austrian lieutentant during the last days of the occupied Italian state and gives up everything for him, even the loyalty to her country. He, on the other hand, only uses her for money but has to pay for it with his life in the end. A classical drama of love an revenge, not really very complex.

But as the title suggests, "Senso" is, above all, a sensual experience. The film is beautiful and the painstaking period detail that Visconti put into the production can be seen and felt in every scene. (He wanted freshly cut flowers each day even in the rooms where they would not film!) "Senso" is quintessential Visconti not only in the lush production values and the classical music included in the film but also as far as the themes of the film are concerned. The cynicism and decadence of some of his later works is omnipresent and the romance seems to be doomed from the beginning. Alida Valli and Farley Granger are both great in their roles, the latter especially giving a surprising turn from tender gentleman to callous opportunist. As in Visconti's masterpiece "The Leopard", there is a nostalgic atmosphere of an era coming to an end and a certain - unspoken - antipathy against the bourgeois, mercenary middle class which is already sawing on the throne of the aristocracy (where Visconti himself descends from)...

A lot of great people were involved with the film: amongst others, Tennessee Williams collaborated on the screenplay, the great Giuseppe Rotunno took over as cinematographer and two of the assistant directors were Francesco Rosi and Franco Zeffirelli. While Rosi became known primarily as a film director in the neorealist tradition, the latter would follow Visconti's footsteps and become one of the most important theater directors of his time. Visconti later directed a lot of operas too which is only logical - "Senso" would have been worthy material for Verdi.


Don't be mistaken: "Sissi" this is not

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