Venezia, spring of 1866, in the last days of the Austrian occupation. A performance of Il Trovatore ends up in confusion due to an anti-Austrian demonstration, organised by Count Ussoni. His cousin Countess Serpieri falls in love with vile Austrian Lieutenant Franz Mahler, but the times are changing.Written by
Vincent Merlaud <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Farley Granger had an irreparable falling-out with director Luchino Visconti towards the end of filming' he left the picture and went home to the US. Visconti handled this by using a "double" to stand in for Granger's character in the final sequences--the double was told to keep his hands in front of his face the whole time, and then was dispatched with his face to the wall. This anecdote is recounted by Francesco Maselli in his fascinating film of personal recollection, Frammenti di Novecento (2005). See more »
At the end of Robert Osborne's TCM introduction to the film (June 2005) he states: "By the way, what we're about to see is Visconti's original version of this film, not the abbreviated English-language version that originally played in America - so this is a big treat." See more »
It's no coincidence that the film opens at the opera. In some fine deep shots we are introduced to our characters with the performance in the background - no doubt to establish the stylistic connection. So Visconti, and collaborator Franco Zefferelli, wanted to make an opera without the singing. This gives us grandeur, but rigidity, and even the mini riot that takes place in the opera house at the outset is aesthetically stylised. You need to buy into the approach at this point, and I simply didn't. It just seemed like a bad idea. Opera is a stage spectacle, all about grand gesture, posturing, formality; it cannot transmit subtleties, the format doesn't allow it. Take away the music and you are left with a banal story and a lot of fancy costumery. For Visconti, constantly wanting to remind us of his noble descent, that is enough - his main concern is showing us lavish interior decor, an obsession you'll find either stirring or stifling. For music we get Bruckner, whose indecisive, meandering drone is largely ignorable.
Cinematically, the result is half-baked. Valli walks into a room full of Austrian soldiers. David Lean (who I equate with Visconti to some extent) would have made a significant scene out of this but Visconti just gives us soldiers draped around the place in various unnatural postures, as you might expect. One of them moves and strikes up a different posture as you might expect. It's all cut and pasted from the Manual of Things Seen and Done Before. The camera stays back, wide angle, and doesn't lend much of a hand with the narrative, leaving the players to communicate with exaggerated gesture.
A married Venetian countess falls for a young Austrian army officer - we know from the first scene that he is an utter cad, but she doesn't or rather she does, but being a one dimensional clinging woman she is bound to hurl herself into disastrous folly. Hence the film mainly consists of Valli ringing the emotional changes over her illicit affair. Visconti indulged so much time in this that he must have thought he was dealing with an original topic. Along the way, there's the approaching end of Austrian rule of northern Italy and some slight comment on the collaboration of senior Venetian figures but that point seems hardly worth making after all this time. There is a lengthy section where Valli's cousin (dashing hero figure) rushes on a military errand rather ridiculously right across the battle line of two approaching armies, but this section was apparently heavily edited, rendering it pointless and incomprehensible. The battle scenes are childish a puff of smoke and the nearest two soldiers fall to the ground this happens repeatedly.
The script can't do anything with the stereotypical characters and the one-sentence plot and there are no stand-out lines. This is extraordinary considering the 'English dialogue by Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles'. Probably it was there but smothered by Visconti's operatic technique. One wonders why these writers were attracted to the project (apart from a free holiday in Rome) perhaps they liked the final humiliation of the countess, which is quite harsh even gleefully misogynistic. She gets her own back though, and it seems the moral is that both men and woman, with their impulsive need for each other, no matter how noble the exterior, are stupid, weak and mutually self-destructive. That ridicules everybody (...or does it?).
Funnily enough, the main problem is Alida Valli, who is required to over-emote in every scene (in total contrast to her depressive role in "The Third Man") it's a little unpleasant to watch and she soon begins to annoy. She doesn't look right at all during the romance too hard-edged. Farley Granger was actually the main point of interest. His slight woodenness suits the impossibly white uniform and cape he was made to wear (what sort of wash-powder did they have in those days?), and in the climactic drunken scene (enhanced by a delightful whore - the highlight of the film) he did as well as anyone could have done under a direction that demanded over-amplification of every attempted nuance. And his eyes expressed something beyond the paltry plot of the film as if betraying that this Italian job was an odd, intense experience for him for one reason or another. So, for all the film's grandeur, all I was left with was some vague speculation of a personal nature about one of its players. Perhaps his story relating to the real world - is the film Visconti should have made.
15 of 31 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this