Luchino Visconti was a key figure in the Italian cinema. He was a also a bundle of contridictions. A member of the aristocracy but joined the communist party. Concerned with ordinary citizens but made films on faded gentry.Then he made DEATH IN VENICE. This continued a run of superb films about Italian history, culture and desire. Critically well regarded, highly praised and won the 25th Anniversary Palm D’or.
Based on Thomas Mann’s novella, the focus of the film over the book is that of the very personal relationship of desire. Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) has just come to Italy, after an unsuccessful run as composer. Bogarde was perfect here. He has that temprement of shy, reclusive male. Though also repressed and sexual. He is the man, who failed by his own sense of entitlement. Mann saw this as his own coming to terms with failure, where Visconti is viewing von Aschenbach as defining a fallow period in his life. Von Aschenbach decides to stay at the Grand Hôtel des Bains, with its Lido. When he sees an adolescent Polish boy named Tadzio, who is staying with his family at the hotel. His beauty is magnetic to him. It is redemptive. It is the draw for a stimulation of his soul. However it is more than mere passing glances and stolen looks. This develops into fascination. Tadzio is the definition of personal beauty. Luchino Visconti unveils this silent statue as an epi David. Von Aschenbach is putting everything onto him. He is boyd by this and able to exist. However living is not all about Metaphysical beauty, which can be as abstract as it is absent to the many and the few of us. So as lovely as this all sounds, the dependency on the visual beauty becomes jarring due to excessive zooms and re framing. Visconti never has been so unhappy with his frame. The focus of beauty sometimes is awe inspired but just as often is muddled. Its a wonderful film, if at times unhappily erratic.
4K adds some of the light hues and smoke of the film. Though I am disturbed by the wear in certain parts. This is common for Criterion, as they use the print as it is held.
Luchino Visconti: Life as in a Novel is the best piece of the pack. The names on here aside, it is rich and well researched. Within seconds of starting it, you know that it is a well worked drive. Alla ricerca di Tadzio is, in all intensive purposes, Visconti as documenting his own work. May lack the clarity of a early, longer piece. Its good. Visconti’s Venice also lacks that clarity or bite. Still worth your time though.
Special Edition Features
- New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- Luchino Visconti: Life as in a Novel, a 2008 documentary about the director, featuring Visconti; actors Burt Lancaster, Silvana Mangano, and Marcello Mastroianni; filmmakers Francesco Rosi and Franco Zeffirelli; and others
- Alla ricerca di Tadzio, a 1970 short film by Visconti about his efforts to cast the role of Tadzio
- New programme featuring literature and cinema scholar Stefano Albertini
- Interview from 2006 with costume designer Piero Tosi
- Excerpt from a 1990 programme about the music in Visconti’s films, featuring Bogarde and actor Marisa Berenson
- Interview with Visconti from 1971
- Visconti’s Venice, a short 1970 behind-the-scenes documentary featuring Visconti and Bogarde
- Plus: An essay by critic Dennis Lim