A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Death in Venice (Luchino Visconti, 1971)

Dirk Bogarde in Death in Venice
I have nothing against slowness in movies if it leads to a satisfactorily immersive experience, but Death in Venice is just languorous, taking its own weary way toward the conclusion promised in the film's title. Watching it patiently has some rewards: Dirk Bogarde's fine performance as Gustave von Aschenbach; the sometimes opulent, sometimes melancholy views of Venice provided by Pasqualino De Santis's cinematography; the handsome sets by Ferdinandino Scarfiotti and costumes by Piero Tosi; loving glimpses of Silvana Mangano as Tadzio's mother; and great gulps of Mahler's third and fifth symphonies on the soundtrack. But the screenplay by Visconti and Nicola Badalucco carries no intellectual or emotional weight. Thomas Mann's novella is meant to be savored and reflected upon, but film inevitably carries us along with our expectations of action, and there is little enough of it going on anywhere but in Aschenbach's head to provide Visconti with something to shoot. He resorts to flashbacks: to the illness that causes Aschenbach to take his fatal trip, to the happy days of Aschenbach's marriage (Marisa Berenson plays his wife) and the devastating death of their child, to a visit to a prostitute who plays Beethoven's Für Elise on the piano, to the storm of cheers and boos at the performance of Aschenbach's composition (actually an excerpt from the Mahler third symphony) and an argument with a friend (Mark Burns) about his music. Tadzio (Björn Andrésen) clearly represents something that has been lost from (or never present in) Aschenbach's life, But Visconti never makes Aschenbach's obsession with Tadzio either psychologically or thematically convincing. In the end we're left with little more than Aschenbach as the aging gay man doomed to a lonely death -- a too-familiar trope.