Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
Original title: Morte A Venezia
Italy/France, 1971. Alfa Cinematografica, Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Luchino Visconti, Nicola Badalucco, based on the story by Thomas Mann. Cinematography by Pasqualino de Santis. Produced by Luchino Visconti. Production Design by Ferdinando Scarfiotti. Costume Design by Piero Tosi. Film Editing by Ruggero Mastroianni.
Luchino Visconti applies his obsessively elegant style to this adaptation of Thomas Mann’s story about repressed desire, set in turn of the century Venice. Dirk Bogarde plays aging composer Aschenbach (Visconti’s idea, in the book he’s a writer) whose years of searching for beauty and originality in his music have taken a serious toll on his health, prompting him to leave his German home and take his worn self to the Italian city of gondolas and canals (Visconti, in his desire to keep the story as much about aesthetic arguments as sex, cuts out Mann’s opening sequence, in which Aschenbach cruises a hot guy in the park and is mixed up about it). At the gorgeous Grand Hôtel des Bains where he is staying, Aschenbach notices a Polish teenager (Björn Andrésen) whose physical perfection captures his eye and his heart (and probably his loins, but when the costumes are this expensive we leave such nonsense at home) and is obsessed with him for his entire stay. His ruminations on the young man’s beauty prompt flashbacks to his arguments with his colleagues, force him to question the happiness of his home life with wife (Marisa Berenson) and child and make for a lot of beautiful days on the beach sitting under an umbrella, while the object of his desire horses around on the sand. Slow and ruminative, this gorgeous film is proof that literary subtext can be translated into visual language, the languid pace expertly recalling the thoughtful flow of Mann’s prose, and the care spent on examining the gorgeous dresses and furniture feeling like narration. Bogarde is the film’s only slightly jarring element, at times overdoing his old man tics in what is otherwise a powerful and iconic performance, while Silvana Mangano is exquisite as Tadzio’s mother.
The Criterion Collection: #962
Academy Award Nomination: Best Costume Design
Cannes Film Festival: In Competition