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SENSO (aka: The Wanton Contessa)(director/writer: Luchino Visconti; screenwriters: Suso Ceccho D’Amico/based on a novel by Camillo Boito; cinematographer: G.R. Aldo; editor: Mario Serandrei; music: Anton Bruckner; cast: Alida Valli (Countess Livia Serpieri), Farley Granger (Lieut. Franz Mahler), Massimo Girotti (Marquis Ussoni), Heinz Moog (Count Serpieri), Rina Morelli (Laura), Marcella Mariani (Clara, the prostitute), Christian Marquand (An official), Sergio Fantoni (Luca); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Domenico Forges Davanzati; Fox Lorber; 1954-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)
“Translates as sumptuous, hollow, overlong and dull.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“Senso” translates as “sentiment”, as it plays out as more fit for a lavish opera production than a movie. It’s directed by Luchino Visconti (“Ludwig”/”La Terra Trema”/ “Ossessione”), in his third film. The aristocratic born Marxist filmmaker’s work translates as sumptuous, hollow, overlong and dull. Originally running 166 minutes (the version I saw), but it was severely cut in a truncated American version that was dubbed in English with dialogue by Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles–a version that was supposedly horrid.

It’s a period drama from the end of the Austrian occupation of Italy intertwined with an illicit ill-fated romance between an older married Italian Countess Livia Serpieri (Alida Valli, the French film star) and the upwardly mobile dashing Lieutenant Franz Mahler (Farley Granger), an unmarried patriotic soldier in the occupying Austrian army. After giving herself fully to her young lover and betraying all her principles (even going against the revolutionary cause in favor of her lover by betraying her city), she will later become disillusioned with him as a status seeking, materialistic minded, vain and unfaithful womanizer, and will denounce him for desertion (an offense that calls for his execution).

It’s set in Venice, 1866. Historically it follows Garibaldi’s 1866 campaign in and around Venice and Verona, but the history is too fuzzy to make things lucid except maybe to history scholars (Risorgimento was the movement from 1815 to 1871 for unification of Italy as a single county and to free itself of any foreign influences). It’s based on a novel by Camillo Boito and written by Suso Ceccho D’Amico, in a screenplay that is weak and lacking coherence.

It opens at the legendary La Fenice opera house in Venice during a performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore and uses the theme of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” to dish out a conventional Italian grand opera tale that is lushly shot in Technicolor by cinematographer G.R. Aldo (he died in a car crash during the shoot). Though Visconti provides the right costumes, the sets are luxurious, the countryside looks ravishingly beautiful, his concern for detail is unparalleled and he does a fine job in filming the battle scenes, it is still not enough. The film seems inert and lapses dangerously close into soap opera territory. It all looks quite elegant, but the story seems to come alive only at painting a portrait of the times and not in developing its characters. The romance never completely held my undivided attention, as it never seemed all that important or credible.

Massico Girotti plays the noble patriotic leader and Heinz Moog is the Count, both of whom disappear from the story without leaving much of an impact. The acting honors go to Valli for doing a superb job trying to make this lustful romance into something special, when it seemed it would be better served as a campy rant–like what Fassbinder did for his lead actress in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. Granger is surprisingly effective as the womanizing cad, who turns abusive. The trouble is their relationship only scored points in the acting department, but their story was never very satisfying to be heartfelt by the viewer.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”