Directed by Luchino Visconti
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 123 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 Italian
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: February 22, 2011
Review Date: February 17, 2011
Luchino Visconti’s Senso brings the histrionics of operatic melodrama to a familiar triangle love story with mixed results. In his typical painterly way, Visconti has made a film that is exquisitely designed and shot, and his two top-billed stars are as gorgeous as the landscapes they inhabit. But for anyone with even a scant knowledge of such well known triangle stories as Anna Karenina or Gone With the Wind, there won’t be many surprises with Senso. The backdrop of Italian politics of the 1860s certainly give the film a resilience for Italians, but without a firm grasp of the facts concerning the war for independence going on in Italy at the time, that aspect of the film seems shortchanged, and we’re left with that routinely obsessive love story that has been done to death in the movies.
Countess Livia Serpieri (Alida Valli) meets and becomes increasingly obsessed with Lieutenant Franz Mahler (Farley Granger), one of the Austrian officers occupying Venice. So angry are native Italians about the occupation of their country by Austrians that Livia’s cousin Roberto Ussoni (Massimo Girotti) even challenges Franz to a duel, but he’s arrested and sent away before the fight can take place. As her passion becomes increasingly overpowering, the countess abandons her wealthy older husband (Heinz Moog) but finds that Franz’s fellow officers don’t know where he is or whom he’s with on any given night. Devastated, Livia flees from Venice to Aldeno hoping to drive thoughts of the handsome Austrian from her mind, but he appears one night at her balcony begging for enough money to bribe a doctor to declare him unfit to serve in the army so he can be hers forever. She steals money that was earmarked for financing the Italian army in their war of independence against the Austrians and gives it to him hoping to eventually join him once the fighting between the factions has ceased.
Luchino Visconti lets us know from the beginning that we’re in for a fiery, operatic melodrama by having his protagonists attend a performance of Il Trovatore, Verdi’s famous opera featuring a doomed triangle love affair amid political upheaval, and meet during an intermission between acts. From there to its wildly overripe conclusion, the emotions are never soft pedaled, and the actors throw themselves into their parts despite the purple prose they’re spouting and the extreme feelings they’re displaying. The film is beautifully appointed with the mansions and their environs superbly decorated and shot, and like so many other Visconti films (especially The Leopard, Ludwig, and Death in Venice), astonishing to look at even with the measured pacing that is also a Visconti hallmark. And for someone who was as renowned as much as a director of plays and operas as he was for films, Visconti handles scenes of the Battle of Custoza with admirable sweep and scope (though admittedly he doesn’t linger on the tumult; he’s always intently focused on the love story whose ending even unsophisticated viewers can deduce with little effort).
Neither Farley Granger not Alida Valli were first choices for their roles, and in the case of Valli, the loss of Ingrid Bergman is keenly felt. Valli was always a cold actress, always triumphing in parts that had her emotions firmly in check. Here she must play love at its most passionate and explosive, and her performance doesn’t always ring true seeming somewhat artificial and against type. Granger’s role was originally slated for Marlon Brando, but while Brando at the time was an impressive physical specimen, he didn’t have the peacock airs that come naturally to Granger and which make his Franz Mahler a handsome (if somewhat obvious) sponge. (Montgomery Clift, who had played a similar role in The Heiress but with much more finesse and motivational ambiguity, would have been the ideal choice here.) Heinz Moog has a couple of interesting scenes as the cuckolded count, and Massimo Girotti makes his outrage at the occupying Austrians most attractive and believable.
The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Using a method similar to Ultra-Resolution to combine the shrunken three strip Technicolor negatives into a finished product, the image features variable color and sharpness. Greens and reds come across nicely in the transfer, excellently saturated without blooming, but flesh tones appear too pink in the early reels. Later on, they do begin to appear more natural. Contrast seems a bit milky throughout leading to a picture that’s never quite as sharp as one would like it to be especially in long shots. Blacks don’t reach anything like their darkest possible levels, sometimes appearing as gray rather than black. The white subtitles show up nicely against the picture and are easily legible. The film has been divided into 19 chapters.
The PCM (1.1 Mbps) 1.0 audio track has been successfully scoured to eliminate hiss, crackle, pops, and flutter, but the resulting mix doesn’t have a lot of fidelity. Gunshots during the battle scenes lack flair and sound quite hollow, and the music, even in the opera excerpt that begins the movie, doesn’t resonate much either. Dialogue has been post dubbed as was the custom of the time (Farley Granger’s dubber doesn’t sound anything like him) so it sounds rather vacant and sterile as well.
The Wanton Contessa is the English-language version of the original film (dialogue provided by Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles), but the edits made to decrease the running time of the original movie don’t give the film any added pace and rather harm its careful construction. It runs 94 minutes and is presented in 1080p though the film has not been remastered and shows all the expected signs of age (scratches, dust, hissy sound).
“The Making of Senso” is a 33 ¾-minute feature featuring members of the production team (camera operator, assistant director, costume designer) who discuss the production of the film and the working methods of its director. It's presented in 1080p.
“Viva Verdi” is a 36-minute overview of director Luchino Visconti’s career and how his knowledge of and love of opera influenced motifs in Senso and in his other works. It’s presented in 1080p.
Critic Peter Cowie offers a video analysis of the movie making splendid points about its overheated tone and political references. With the use of frequent clips from the film, the admiring critique runs for 28 ½ minutes in 1080p.
“Man of Three Worlds: Luchino Visconti” is an installment of the BBC television series Sunday Night as interviewers and names such as Leonard Bernstein, Vittorio DeSica, Maria Callas, and others comment on his artistry. The man himself has much to say on his art in this 48 ¼-minute episode presented in 1080i.
The enclosed 38-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, a stunning selection of exquisite color stills from the movie, filmmaker Mark Rappaport’s rapturous appreciation for the picture, and excerpts from Farley Granger’s autobiography which deal specifically with the making of the movie.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Luchino Visconti’s Senso doesn’t have quite the pathos of Death in Venice or the intense plotting of Rocco and His Brothers, but it’s another of his exquisitely appointed period films that deserves viewing. Excellent bonus features give added value to this recommended Blu-ray release.