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Nest of Vipers (1978)

Ritratto di borghesia in nero (original title)
R | | Drama | 7 September 1979 (USA)
A background of rising fascism in Venice in 1930s. A music-student, Matthias, mixes with the town's bourgeoisie and falls in love with a mature teacher, Carla, the mother of his friend ... See full summary »




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Cast overview, first billed only:
Elena Mazzarini
Carla Richter
Amalia Mazzarini
Paolo Mazzarini
Maria Monti ...
Eros Pagni ...
Giancarlo Sbragia ...
Stefano Patrizi ...
Mattia Morandi
Renato Richter
Mattia Sbragia ...
Edoardo Mazzarini
Antonia Cancellieri
Suxanne Crese Bates
Raffaele Di Mario
Giancarlo Marinangeli


A background of rising fascism in Venice in 1930s. A music-student, Matthias, mixes with the town's bourgeoisie and falls in love with a mature teacher, Carla, the mother of his friend Renato, and then with his young colleague, Elena. The themes include blackmail, betrayal, seduction, and eventually murder. Written by lament

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The story of an obsessed love...and the three destinies shaped by it.




R | See all certifications »




Release Date:

7 September 1979 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Nest of Vipers  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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User Reviews

Solid 1930's melodrama
4 February 2016 | by (Los Angeles, usa) – See all my reviews

Fascists seem closer to a dangerous, murderous alliance with the Nazi's, and, Italy almost seems to want to forget, living in a decadence that is of course a perfect, quintessential 'counterpart' to the increasingly corruption in politics,and, in fashions,becoming so, a sordid omen to the horrors that will sadly follow. But, money seem quite good, still, especially for the wealthy upper classes who are all sustaining Mussolini, ridiculously ignoring the imminent dangers, and all the immorality that will plague seriously Europe for well over a decade. We are in lovely Venezia (beautifully photographed by the great Armando Nannuzzi, with saturated tones, perhaps to remember 'Technicolor', then, just becoming famous?) still gorgeous piano teacher Carla Richter (Senta Berger), and, her young and, ambiguous son Renato (handsome Christian Borromeo) don't seem to be at ease with pretty much anything: i felt almost as if he was attracted by the mother, in any case they do not certainly seem to perceive a great future ahead. The script is a bit trite to give all this away at the beginning, but this was my impression. They are actually - despite the script again keeps on, mistakingly striving to depict them as immoral, and, morbid- the 2 more benign souls of the whole motion picture. The sexy piano teacher, who's been giving lessons to the gorgeous daughter Elena (Ornella Muti, perfecting casting, and, she was truly splendidly photographed, here, even though, i would have loved to see someone like Charlotte Rampling, or Therese Ann Savoy in that role), has also been 'amorally' trying to push the seemingly reluctant son Renato, into a marriage of convenience, with Elena, who gets just a kick out of the boy. Carla at this point gets to know the much darker side of one of the supposedly most 'appointed' and 'untouchable' families of that lovely Venetian Summer of 1938, and, she starts fearing for the worst: she is facing a true nest of vipers: not only having to face the rude, and, increasingly intimidating comments made against herself, and against Renato, she also gradually grows distraught by all the corruption surrounding the same family's friends, and society, all representing perhaps to her a major failure into her broken dream to see both herself, and her son Renato, in a much better 'social' position. But, here, the games aren't even those of a social commentary, here we are just in the middle of a true class discrimination, and we stand to the verge of the notorious criminal decadence that will bring the 2nd World war: it is all operated with cruelty, with morbid, and, sordid offenses, constantly perpetrated to all of those not accepting of their position, and dues. The extremely wealthy, and, obviously Fascist, aristocratic family Mazzarini, is composed (beside by the gorgeous Elena, who 'seems' also the most innocent of the bunch), also by the always classy Capucine, great as the manipulative, vampire alike mother, by Paolo Bonacelli, as usual, also excellent playing characters who want to appear loyal and lawful, when are instead just as corrupted, as much as they are slithery, and treacherous,and, of a son who's a bisexual misfit, who seems to indulge into opium, for the most part, creating trouble, and, enjoying to watch his sister making love with playboys! Trouble arises when Renato would just one day innocently (?) introduce the classic handsome stud, Mattia Morandi (great physique Du role, but not so well played by a wooden, Stefano Patrizi, from Visconti's 'The Conversation Piece') a studly friend who will bring with his own games the plot to an incredible series of convoluted, but, truly disconcerting turns, culminating to even a crime murder's mystery investigation, and, to a threat that could be enough to generate a so not sought International scandal. Now, unfortunately, as you may tell, the script is way too convoluted and contrived, however we must say also that this movie is just lovely to look at, extremely well produced, with a production design, sets, costumes, and, make up, cinematography, and, catchy original music from Vince Tempera,that are all just formidable! And, of course, all the stars are mostly great, and lensed with an almost incredible old fashioned type of allure, so if the story quite frankly never gets all completely together, and, there are too many things given away, and very few surprises, aside from the abundant dose of steamy, and, sometime truly morbid, sexuality, which, at the end, it ends up holding up a movie, that would have maybe liked to replicate the works of Luchino Visconti, or Patroni-Griffi, Bolognini, Liliana Cavani, etc., but, misses instead completely into what is a complete and necessary build up of a much stronger character's development, that would have helped giving to the film that boost, and, finally, a whole different tone, without having instead to rely for the most part in its erotic sideways, in order to keep the interest always up. Thanks again to what we should call a first class crew, sex and convolutions are never cheap, and always pleasant, if you don't mind erotic cinema of course, but it could have been a much more poignant film with a stronger script and director. Altogether, it is pleasant and always watchable, it has its own moments, and again its erotica is refined, and, as exquisite as its cast. And, i personally enjoyed it quite a bit. Over all, Senta Berger, Borromeo, Capucine, and Ornella Muti, especially, manage to always keep the show extremely interesting and sublimating.. But, it is not the masterpiece it would have clearly wanted to be. It is adapted by a novel by Peyrefitte called "The Piano Teacher" which was translated into Italian at the time as "Ritratto Di Borghesia in Nero"('A Portrait of Aristocrats in Black', more or less..) so to try to homage both Visconti's "The Damned", and Tinto Brass "Salon Kitty",and, try for the same commercial success those great movies obviously had, and, still are today so well known for.

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