SENSO (Luchino Visconti, 1954)

Senso proved as doomed as the mostly one-sided, purplish romance at the center of its plot. Ingrid Bergman and Marlon Brando agreed to star; but when (under pressure from spouse Roberto Rossellini) Bergman withdrew, Brando followed suit. Cinematographer Aldo Graziati was killed in a road accident during filming. The producer worried that the film’s depiction of Italy’s nineteenth-century Austrian occupation would open old psychic wounds, and more recent ones as a result of the German occupation, and demanded changes. Censors intervened even more drastically, obscuring filmmaker Luchino Visconti’s aim at Italy’s aristocracy, whose sense of privilege, Visconti’s film was supposed to argue, contributed to Italy’s military defeats in its struggle for independence. Visconti’s own roots were aristocratic, but, a Communist, his politics urged an honest confrontation with Italy’s past. This didn’t make it to the screen. In the U.S., an additional half-hour was slashed, but the sensational title slapped onto it suited the result: The Wanton Contessa.
     Venezia, 1866; Countess Livia Serpieri (beauteous Alida Valli, strikingly good) implores Franz Mahler for her rebel cousin’s release from jail following his participation in an anti-Austrian demonstration. She falls in love with the Austrian lieutenant. Their sordid, for her extramarital affair begins the process of her degradation. Her heart urges her pursuit of the lieutenant even after the sexual profligate has cold-shouldered, really, betrayed her, and she ends up betraying the cause that had led to their initial meeting.
     To say the least, this is an unhappy film, with Livia is tears in her carriage and recklessly on foot, attempting to re-meet Mahler after he has moved on. The Visconti film it most resembles would also prove to be one of his worst: Death in Venice (1971). The mangled result, though, necessitated Visconti’s masterpiece about Risorgimento, Il Gattopardo (1963).

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