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
[…] Senso – Visconti […]
Just watched this on your recomendation and loved it. I probably have it almost on par with the leopard which i consider his best (rocco is not far behind tho). I would probably consider it a MP.
Among other things I loved the 10 minutes or so that took place in what i think was the basement of the mansion with the sand on the ground (similar to stalker) and the low angle shots looking up to the rafters and the shots taken from above through the rafters. Beautiful
Reading the Wikipedia page i found out Visconti wanted Brando and Ingrid Bergman to be the leads. I cant imagine how much more i would have loved it if they were both in it
@Big chungus- great work here- yes- I would have loved to have seem those two work with Visconti — and this is the right time in their careers for this movie, too.
@Big Chungus – Great that you’ve enjoyed it! It always nice when Visconti is praised. Because I feel in general he is a bit underrated even among cinephiles.
Actually, the main problem with the movie for me were the two leads. So I would be extremely curious about the version with these two legends. One of many interesting what if’s of the movie history.))
I think he is definitely underrated, or atleast underappareciated. I think its because he is not very popular like scorsese or kubrick, but he isnt obscure or artsy like Bunuel or Bergman, so he just kind of gets lost in that space.
After seeing 5 of his films, i would probably put him a couple slots lower than leone (maybe top 25-30ish) but i still have maybe 3-4 films that drake has as HR and MS so that will likely improve my ranking of him
I didnt have a huge problem with the acting but i mean adding brando and bergman… come on now lol. I definitely thought the dubbing was weird though, and visconti did the same thing with lancaster in the leopard. I wonder why he does that? I guess probably to get star power on screen. I feel like the same dubbing have happened to brando and bergman anyways, and to me at least, actors dialogue is a very important part of the performance
@Big Chungus – Sorry, I’m not sure that I understand your point. You mean that he is not perceived as mainstream enough (relatively) to get into like Scorsese or not capital Artist like Bergman? Just want to clarify that I understand you correctly.)
Personally, I think the reason is that many of his movies were not available in good quality for a long time.
Regarding the dubbing, if I understand correctly in 50-60 Italian cinema dubbing of the movies in post was standard practise (even with all Italian casts). It allowed to them to lure actors who didn’t speak Italian.
Ya thats exactly what i mean. I use instagram quite a bit, and ive notice in the fim community there tends to latch to directors who are either mainstream movie lover directors (scorsese, kubrick, tarantino, etc) or to niche artsy cinephile directors (tarkovsky, bergman, etc). Not that theres a problem with any of those directors, but it seems like some directors land half way between those catagories and just get forgot about
Ive only been into film for like 4ish years, so pretty much every film ive ever wanted to watch is availible online somewhere, so ive never had to worry about not finding his films, but that definitely makes sense.
Thats good to know about the dubbing. i guess it makes sense, but if they dubbed brando with some random italian guys voice id be a bit frustrated because he has such a unique voice.
Ive only seen 5 viscontis (rocco, leopard, senso, ossessione and la terra trema), any others you would recomend?
@Big chungus – Thanks for clarification! Interesting point. Maybe you are right to a certain extent.) But Visconti seems pretty artsy to me.
Yeah, you make a great point. I think it’s a great time to be a cinephile. Even if you don’t like modern cinema, there are so many ways to watch older movies at our fingertips.
Certainly, personally I would reccomend The Damned(1969), Bellissima (1951) and White Nights(1957). These and Leopard were my favorites during my Visconti study.
Although, Criterion will soon relise the Damned on blu-ray. So if you are not in hurry you can wait and watch this deliciously devilish movie in top quality.)
Belissima is from his neorealism period, but it anchored but towering Magniani performance.
And White nights is quite unique in his filmography. The story puts it in his neorealism tradition, but decorations give it such stylized look. I think in combination it creates a great atmosphere of longing.
I’m surprised you didn’t mention the fact that a certain town called… Salò is mentioned in this film.