A magnificent painterly work from Visconti—his first film in color and his fourth feature overall. Unlike Ossessione and La Terra Trema this is a 180-turn away from neorealism in a lot of ways (professional actors, color, expensive upper class). It is operatic, opulent, melodramatic and the most expensive Italian film at the time of its release.
Phillip Lopate coined the phrase “operatic realism” when talking about Visconti’s style
Size and scope—it opens at the opera—La Fenice the famed opera house in Venice with Verdi’s “Il Travatore”—extras and thematic/political implications with the Verdi choice, the colorful leaflets of protest thrown from the balcony—an impressive set piece, gorgeous frames, the chandelier. I think PTA’s Phantom Thread has as similar shots with the confetti at the New Years party
A visual motif throughout the film is the lamps dangling down in the frame. It’s not quite von Sternberg but it’s clear that Visconti’s plan is to design the hell out of each frame.
Early the stage, curtains (acting as frame) and orchestra are all in the mise-en-scene. Visconti directed 20+ actual operas (including Maria Callas five times in the fifties) in his time.
One of the great early works of wallpaper as production design art
There’s a really impressive composition at 41 minutes. Alida Valli is in a room with seven Prussian soldiers staggered throughout the frame just like Visconti did in La Terra Trema . Wall art.
Another jaw-dropper at 47 minutes- the camera is at the top of the stairs and the maid is framed by the door at the bottom
The costume work is superior
The war as a backdrop with the personal love story in the foreground like many epics from War and Peace, to Gone With the Wind. Valli is very good in the role here. She handles the inner conflict exquisitely without being overly melodramatic.
A great shot with the art behind Granger at 57 minutes, at 62 minutes we get the depth of field work from Visconti with Granger sitting behind Valli on the chair lying down— certainly feels like this is an influence on Antonioni as its often just these two lovers in the frame with great blocking
At 75 minutes we get the famous shot of foreground/background brilliance with the frescos
At 81 minutes the shot through 3 doors in the granary
The war scenes—characters moving in unison in the wheat field- looks like Kurosawa’s Ran in that sequence with the long shots
In the tragic scene where Granger finally tells Valli off—the bottles and debauchery is just littered throughout the place. It is so well designed. 102 minutes. Lamp in the foreground again designing the frame.
You can’t read a review of the film without knowing that Visconti wanted Bergman and Brando for the two leads. I’m not sure Bergman would be as good as Valli. I think Granger is a bit miscast. He’s a good pretty boy (and the role calls for that). But when he’s asked to be evil and savage at the end it is testing the limits of what Granger can do as an actor. I’d love to have seen Brando do it. The way he treats Valli is in line with the world of Visconti. War (the system) is corrupt and awful—and so are people (Granger). The scene of him laughing at her cruelty as she flees the apartment is tough.
Again we get the frescos with the meeting with the general at minute 116—lovely
The execution scene is Visconti’s worldview as well. A bunch of stumbling drunk soldiers whistling at Valli on the street and she’s totally devastated and disillusioned in black. Walking along the empty black streets yelling his name before he’s executed. Harsh and ugly. Fassbinder made 20 films like this.
It’s strange- Tennessee Williams is credited with some of the writing but that is probably the weakest aspect of the film.
A Must-See film- top 5 of the year quality film in a loaded year 1954