Directed by Luchino Visconti
Adaptation by Luchino Visconti & Suso Cecchi d'Amico
Based on a story by Camillo Boito
Scenario Collaborator by Carlo Alianello & Giorgio Bassani & Giorgio Prosperi
Dialogue contributor Tennessee Williams & Paul Bowles
I was first introduced to Count Luchino Visconti by Martin Scorsese and his amazing documentary /film school My Voyage to Italy. Visconti’s first film, Ossessione, an adaptation of Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, is considered by some critics to be the first Neorealist film and it was in that genre that Visconti first gained notoriety; however, Senso is a completely different film. Instead of shooting in the Neorealist style of shooting black and white film, using natural lighting, and casting real people, Visconti shoots a Technicolor extravaganza with elaborate set pieces and established actors, including American actor Farley Granger. The subject matter changes as well. Rather than depicting the struggles of the lower classes in Postwar Italy, Visconti tells a story about the elites, a love affair between a married Italian countess and an Austrian soldier and the setting is spring of 1866, during the Risorgiamento as Italy breaks free from the control of the Austrian occupation.
The film starts in Venice where a performance of Il Trovatore is taking place. The opera is interrupted by an anti-Austrian demonstration, organized by Count Ussoni, the cousin of Countess Serpieri. As she works to get him released from the Austrian authorities, she meets Lieutenant Franz Mahler of the Austrian army. They begin a passionate love affair.
As the demonstrations turn to riots, Countess Serpieri returns to the safety of her husband’s estate. Mahler sneaks onto the Count’s estate to visit her and tells her that he has discovered a way for him to leave the army, so they can be together. There’s a doctor writing phony medical releases for soldiers for a hefty price. She gives Mahler what he needs and he leaves before her husband discovers his presence.
Mahler writes her a letter, stating that he got his release from the army, but because the fighting is so bad, he begs her not to try coming to see him. She loves him so much that she is willing to risk her safety, give up her life as a countess and ride through the active battlefields. Unlike most romantic stories, I found the ending believable and satisfying.
Warning! The version shown on Turner Classics was brutal to watch. The color was very badly faded, giving the film a yellowish tint. The effect was similar to watching the film through a piece of gauze. It would probably have looked better if watched in black and white. This film is badly in need of restoration; however, the story was strong enough to keep me watching even in its current dilapidated state.