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"Slow", "slow", "slow"... I read many people complain "it's slow"...
slow what? This movie takes its time. All the most beautiful things in
life take time. When you make sex with your girlfriend would you try to
make it last five minutes? No you would like to make it last the whole
night. When you eat good food in a good restaurant would you like to
finish it in two minutes? No, you sit down, enjoy the place, the food,
the company and the wine. When you visit an art museum, would you rush
through the rooms? No, you would move slowly, pay attention, and stop
at the artworks that mean more to you. So why should a movie be
If you want speed, then eat at McDonald's, rush in the tube, watch TV commercials, and pay a prostitute for a 5 minute work.
If you are looking for real emotions, deep feelings and thoughts that will last in your memory and heart for a long time, then you don't want to miss this movie.
One caveat: don't go watching it for the gay theme. This movie isn't about gay love, if you look at it through this point of view, it will let you down completely. This movie is symbolism from beginning to end, it does not speak of what you see. It speaks of the struggle of the artist to reach the beauty, so close, always unreachable, and, like another reader perfectly commented, so inevitably connected with death, because the only perfection that a living being can ever attain, is in the death. If you look at the movie from this point of view, it will show to you for what it is: a complete masterpiece, from beginning to end.
Luchino Visconti's "Death in Venice" is a masterpiece of utterly haunting
beauty that will capture the imagination of anyone interested in the
screen's capacity for breathtaking images. It is a poignant tragedy based
on Thomas Mann's classic novella of the same name. Visconti has captured
many of the essential qualities of the book and employed a superb visual
style (with the assistance of the great cinematographer Pasqualino DeSantis)
for a story which is essentially an interior one. It is about the struggle
within the soul of a man, Gustav von Aschenbach, a composer vacationing in
the Venice of 1911.
In Mann's book Aschenbach was a writer, but Visconti asserted that the book had been inspired by events in the life of Gustav Mahler, whose music, mostly the haunting adagietto of his Fifth Symphony, is used as background (and foreground) music, helping create an almost tactile mood of melancholy.
Dirk Bogarde plays Aschenbach, a man possessed by feelings of failure, haunted by the grief he and his wife (Marisa Berensen) shared over the death of their daughter. He is a man on the precipice of emotional collapse who finds both redemption and destruction in the contemplation of beauty. "The creation of beauty and purity is a spiritual act." God and composers are alike.
In this film beauty becomes incarnate in the form of a young Polish boy vacationing at the same hotel, the Hotel des Bains on the Lido. The boy's stately mother is played by Silvana Mangano. The long-haired blond boy is Tadziu, aged 14, played by the Swedish Bjørn Andresen. Andresen is smitten by, then obsessed with, the boy's beauty, in a manner that is more spiritual than sexual, but which must also contain a good deal of sublimated sexual longing.
At first he merely steals opportunities to look at the lad. They never speak. Gradually he starts to seek him out, self-destructively spurred-on by the boy's coquettishness and knowing glances. Bogarde makes the character's longing as tangibly moving as it is ultimately pathetic.
All this takes place in a misty Venice dense with metaphorical gloom and a mysterious plague (cholera) carrying death to its inhabitants. In one horrifying scene a barber "re-makes" Aschenbach's face so that it is both a grotesque parody of youth and an ominous death mask.
Visconti's skill in recreating lush period detail, to paint family-album poses of aristocracy, to make beauty seem dangerous, to underline the complexity of human psychology, are all in evidence here. The color photography by Pasqualino De Santis, and the costumes by Piero Tosi are excellent.
The ending of the film is unforgettable: Gustav languishing on the beach, the Polish folk song in the background, the boy Tadziu in the water turning into an angelic apparition with extended hand. Overwhelming!
I cannot imagine a better film ever being made of Mann's great and essential work.
Luchino Visconti's 'Death in Venice' is one of the most misunderstood
masterpieces of cinema. Based on Thomas Mann's 1913 classic novella of
the same name, the film not only capture the quintessential of the
novel but also reinforce a powerful questioning through superb visuals.
Adapted by Mr. Visconti himself who decided to focus on the Venice
chapter only as well as to modify the occupation of the main
protagonist, Gustav von Aschenbach who becomes a music composer (highly
inspired by the composer Mahler), the film was also inspired by other
Thomas Mann's novel like 'Doctor Faustus' or by Marcel Proust's
writing. Often reduced and presented as a decadent film in which
homosexuality and pedophilia are the main themes, the novel like the
movie deals in fact with a much more complex and powerful dynamic.
Indeed the film is based on an equation between Death and Beauty as an aphorism for Perfection and in which the results is Time (or the lack of it). Perfection, Beauty is a chimer, pursuing it is pursuing Death as Time is passing by. At first von Aschenbach does not understand why the perfection of the form in his musical composition does not lead to the perfection of his symphony and therefore lose himself in a quest for Beauty following the young Tadzio as not only a symbol for this ultimate Beauty / Perfection but also as the Mask of Death. In this Venice, marked by Death and cursed by the plague, the Time is running out and the fascinating quest for Perfection finally appears to be a dangerous game to play.
All the notions that build up to the main questioning are revealed during this quest for Perfection and this race against Death. The notion of Urgency reinforced by an avoidable sorrow as Von Aschenbach realizes he is getting old in the hair dresser scene. The notion of isolation right from the beginning emphases by the personality of Aschenbach himself and showed by Visconti as someone cold and rigid and therefore alone. The notion of Desire which leads to the understanding of the main questioning: for Aschenbach, Perfection is reached through hard work it is a consequence not a fact. The Young Tadzio blows away this certitude. Does von Aschenbach desire Tadzio or is he fascinated by what he represents: Perfect Beauty?
The challenge of Luchino Visconti was to apply a superb cinematography and a precise narrative method to a film that in nature deals with complex concepts. By succeeding in this task Mr. Visconti delivers a haunting piece of cinema, a true emotional experience, a masterpiece.
Turn-of-the-century Venice is depicted in all its elegance and decay through
the eyes of a composer who knows he has little time left to live. The
composer is obsessed not just with beauty, but with the ideas behind beauty,
and his theories are slowly proved wrong when he finds himself infatuated
with a beautiful teenage boy. He becomes obsessed with the boy and amidst
the backdrop of a city quietly dying with a plague, he simply observes and
ponders, trying his best to keep his desires at bay.
The core of the film is in Dirk Bogarde's performance. As there is little dialogue in the film, he must act with his eyes and through his mannerisms, and he never falters. In the reflection of his eyes we see beauty as it is distinguished in the depths of all of our souls (well, those of us who have souls!). We see the awe, the pain, the fever, the fear, the desire and the ultimate surrender all in that forlorn face.
The music (most of it by Gustave Mahler) also reflects all this, and Visconti's incredible photography of the decaying Venice pinpoints the end of an era in a way that is both dreamlike and unsentimental (despite the romantic quality of the film).
The film is slow and langorous, like the hush of the ocean sweeping the shore. For those who like the visual quality of dreams and the somber romanticism of adagios, this film will be something to cherish forever.
I first saw "Death in Venice" 1971) about 15 years ago, found it
profoundly moving and often thought about it. Watching it again few
days ago, I realized that it is close to the top of the great works of
cinema. With hardly any dialog it captivates a viewer with the
beautiful cinematography, the fine acting, and, above all, the Mahler's
music without which the movie simply could not exist.
"Death in Venice" is a stunning Luchino Visconti's adaptation of the Thomas Mann novella about a famous composer (in the novella he was a writer but making him a composer in a movie was a great idea that works admirably) Gustav von Aschenbach (loosely based on Gustav Mahler) who travels to Venice in the summer of 1911 to recover from personal losses and professional failures. His search for beauty and perfection seems to be completed when he sees a boy of incredible divine beauty. Ashenbach (Dirk Bogard) follows the boy everywhere never trying to approach him. The boy, Tadzio, belonged to very rare creatures that own an enigmatic and inconceivable power which captivates you, enchants you, conquers you and makes you its prisoner. Ashenbach became one of the prisoners of Tadzio spellbinding charms. He became addicted to him; he fell in love with him. Was it bless or curse for him? I think both. He died from unreachable, impossible yet beautiful love which object was perfection itself. The last image Ashenbach's eyes captured was that of the boy's silhouette surrounded by the sea and golden sun light. Nothing could compare to the beauty and charm of the scene and to take it with you to the grave is the death one can only dream about. If he could, Ashenbach probably would've said, "I was able to witness one of the faces of perfection, I could not bear it but I was chosen to learn that it exists here, in this world and I can die in peace now because it did happen to me."
Unforgettable music, Gustav Mahler's haunting adagietto of his Fifth Symphony found perfect use in a perfect movie. It reflects every emotion of a main character - it sobs, it longs, it begs for hope, and it summarizes the idea that once you are blessed to encounter beauty you are condemned to die. I may come up with hundreds movies that use classical music to perfection but nothing will ever compare to "Death in Venice". I dare say that Mahler's music IS its main character - it would change and sound differently depending on what was happening on the screen. It sounded triumphantly when Ashenbach returned back to Venice, to what he thought would be his happiness but turned to be his death. It sounded gloomy when he first entered Venice from the sea. You can hear so many different feelings in it - tenderness and adoration, confusion and self-loathing, worship and melancholy, but always - LOVE that gives the purest happiness and breaks the hearts (literally). The movie for a viewer is similar to what the boy was for the aging composer/writer/Artist. We are enchanted and captivated by its power and beauty as much as Achenbach was by the boy's mysterious charm.
I first saw "Death in Venice" when it was initially released in 1971. Today, I saw it again (by chance!) while I was channel-surfing. It had the same hypnotic effect on me that it had then. To wit: I sat down, vacuum cleaner in hand, and remained there. In 1971, at age 21, I recognized the film's poignancy but not in the way I was able to now, at age 56. Yes, it's slow-moving and not very much "happens". But its beauty, especially the wonderful close-ups and the use of Mahler's music, endures. Those familiar with Thomas Mann's novella of the same name,and other of his works (e.g., The Magic Mountain) will recall that nothing much "happens" in these stories, either. However, these classics (both in print and film) are apt to remain with us long after the latest special effects action film has disappeared.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Cinema's greatest period started in post-War Europe with Italy's Neo-Realist
movement. During the next 2 or 3 decades that followed, France's New Wavers
caught everyone's attention, and there was always Bergman up there on his
desolate Scandinavian island somewhere, making bitter masterpieces. But in
1971, Luchino Visconti brought the art-form to full circle, geographically
speaking, with his miraculous work *Death in Venice*, which might as well
be called *The Death of Europoean Cinema*. After the Sixties wound down,
so did the great European filmmakers, who, with some exceptions, generally
grew exhausted and passed the torch to a new American generation of Movie
Brats (Coppola, Scorsese, & Co.). This movie absolutely feels like a grand
summing-up, not just of Visconti's particular obsessions, but of the general
attempt of European filmmakers to achieve the aesthetic ideal in movies.
And rest assured, you will find no sterner task-master than the Visconti
revealed here. He's not playing to the crowd, folks: either you get behind
him and follow along, or you get left behind. The pacing is a challenge:
slow, but never without emotional weight. "Incidents" are few and far
between, but each seems loaded with symbolic significance in a
We will probably never be in such rarefied company again, in terms of the movies: one of the century's great writers who inspired the tale (Thomas Mann), one of the greatest filmmakers directing it (Visconti), one of the greatest actors in the lead role (Dirk Bogarde), and swelling almost ceaselessly in the background, Gustav Mahler's 5th Symphony. Taking full advantage of Mahler's ability to inspire Romanticism in even the most cynical breast, Visconti changes the main character, Aschenbach, into a decrepit composer from his original persona as a writer, even making Bogarde up to LOOK like Mahler (geeky mustache, specs, shaggy hair, duck-like walk). Bogarde, by the way, delivers what is probably greatest performance of an actor in the history of movies: it's a largely silent performance, and the actor has to deliver reams of meaning in a gesture or a glance -- a difficult trick without mugging like Chaplin or merely acting like an animated corpse.
Cinema just doesn't get better than this. I'll ignore the complaints from the Ritalin-addicts out there who say that it's too slow, but even the more legitimate gripe concerning some of Aschenbach's flashbacks with that antagonistic friend of his is misplaced. The flashbacks fit neatly within the movie's thematic concerns (i.e., which is the better path to aesthetic perfection: passion or discipline?), and the suddenness and shrillness of these interruptions serve to prevent sleepiness among the viewers. (Of course, some viewers will sleep through this movie, anyway.) A nonstop stream of Mahler and beautiful, dying Venice would be nothing more than a pretty picture; but this movie is actually about something. And what it's mostly about is suffering: Romantic (capital R) suffering, in particular. As a suffering Romantic himself, Visconti knew whereof he spoke.
[SPOILER . . . I guess] If for nothing else, see *Death in Venice* for its portentous opening credits . . . and for its unforgettable ending, with Bogarde's jet-black hair-dye dripping off of his sweaty, dying head and onto his chalk-white face. Meanwhile, off in the distance, young Tadzio, the object of Bogarde's dying desire, stands in the ocean and points toward the horizon like a Michelangelo sculpture. The climatic sequence sums up with agonizing economy everything that the movie is about: love, lust, beauty, loss, the ending of a life set against the beginning of another life, and cold death in the midst of warm, sunny beauty. *Death in Venice* is a miraculous work of art.
[DVD tip: as with the simultaneously released Visconti masterpiece *The Damned*, I recommend that you turn the English subtitles ON while watching this movie. It's ostensibly in English, but the DVD's sound seems muddy and there's a lot of Italian spoken during the film, anyway.]
Set in Venice mainly on the Lido, Visconti's "Death in Venice" is a triumph
of filmmaking combining the excellence of Dirk Bogarde's characterisation
and expert photography of the resort area in all its various daily moods.
For those who love Venice, this is a film to cherish.
Mahler's music frequently heard throughout the film heightens the drama. The mood it creates is not always happy. But then what else would you expect with a title like that?
There is not a lot of dialogue in the film. Rather sparse in fact. It's mainly background noises and chatter and laughter among the hotel guests. The intriguing part is to interpret the exchange of glances between Gustav von Aschenbach a composer of some renown and a slim teenage youth Tadzio who see each other from time to time across the tables of the hotel dining room, on the beach and at odd unexpected places around Venice. They seem to acknowledge each other's presence shyly at first with little more than the suggestion of a smile but later with a strong and riveting and urgent gaze.
Each viewer will have his own interpretation. The composer has lost a child of his own. Is this behaviour an expression of yearning for the child he loved? Is it perhaps a sexual attraction towards this fragile young man with his dazed somewhat girlish stare? Could he be discovering some new inspiration for a yet unwritten musical masterpiece? Who knows?
From beginning to end this film captures the true spirit of 19th Century Venice. The elegance of the ladies, the deck chairs on the sand, the children frolicking in their neck-to-knee bathing costumes, the glow of sunsets and a general feeling of satisfaction with the world. While some may think the pace is rather slow at times, the film has an overall gentle quality, but with a simmering indecision between two repressed human beings. Be prepared for a sad and beautiful ending.
Death in Venice is a movie I need to see once every ten years. It is always
different, because I am always at a different stage of
The movie is about art, beauty, longing, death. Some scenes are painfully slow, others simply annoying to watch, especially if you have seem them before. Yet I would not want to miss a single frame. The music is repetitive, the main theme of the adagietto from Mahler's fifth is used again and again. Yet I would not want to miss a single note. When the last image fades, the last note dies, I am left numb and exhausted.
This movie is a monument to film making. As with most really good movies, the saturday evening crowd should stay away from it. And this is simply the best movie ever.
Death in Venice has nothing to do with sexuality - hetero, homo, or otherwise. It's about God, man, beauty and creation. Man loses. End of story.
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