Visconti’s romantic tragedy is set in Venice in the spring of 1866 during the attempted occupation of Italy by Austria. It was also the director’s first step into lavish, period films which he later made his trademark having moved away from the neo-realism which typified his much earlier work.

The ultimately ill-fated love affair between Countess Livia Serpieri (Alida Valli) and the charming-yet-arrogant Austrian lieutenant Franz Mahler (Farley Granger) begins after a visit to the opera. It is here where the Countess’s cousin Roberto (Massimo Girotti) challenges the lieutenant to a duel; Roberto is then consequently arrested and exiled. The tragedy of war provides a moving backdrop to a somewhat heart-wrenching tale of a secretive affair.

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Luchino Visconti later became known for his technically exquisite work behind the camera and Senso is wonderfully framed and lit with especially pleasing cinematography. Being a product of Italy’s golden age of cinema the picture is a grand example of the progression of film during the period and rests only inches behind the director's masterpiece The Leopard (1963).

In terms of themes and genre Senso is both pleasing and adored by the masses yet also a prevalent and important work in terms of the central issue of social and moral decline during the period. It is the same sordid debauchery that was also employed in his latter works such as Damned/Götterdammerung (1969).

Though first impressions may hint towards a simple matinee romance, Senso is subversive in the extreme. The central characters, when viewed through the harsh gaze of their turbulent and self-serving time, are revealed to be insipidly shallow making the fate of their affair all the more appropriate. Although Visconti’s Marxist leanings are proudly displayed the film has an undeniable honesty in its depiction of the two lovers. The sub-plot concerning Roberto’s rebellion against the Austrians was actually introduced by Visconti who downplayed the romance which was the central theme from the novella upon which the film is based.

The stark daring with which Visconti executes Senso is better appreciated when taking in to account the rough treatment it was given by censors at the time who insisted the original ending, where the Countess wanders the streets before being waylaid by soldiers, was re-shot. While the alternative ending may not have been the director’s ideal, it did at least serve to redress the moral balance.

Reviewed on: 25 Nov 2007
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Self-destructive period romance.
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Director: Luchino Visconti

Writer: Camillo Boito, Luchino Visconti

Starring: Alida Valli, Farley Granger, Heinz Moog, Rina Morelli, Christian Marquand, Sergio Fantoni, Tino Bianchi, Ernst Nadherny, Tonio Selwart, Marcella Mariani, Massimo Girotti

Year: 1954

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Italy


Italian 2009

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