For Movie Monday today, the last made film by the great Italian director, Luchino Visconti. It was produced in 1976 and based on a novella by Gabriele D’Annunzio, one of the most popular and yet one of the most aristocratic “fin-de-siecle” writers in late 19th century Italy. “L’ Innocente” (The Innocent One) was directed by Visconti in his wheelchair and one can see the sparkling intellect of this great artist of the seventh art burgeoning forth and leaving us a legacy of one of his most gorgeous cinematic creations.
The film is set in turn of the century Italy and centres around the life of one of the ruling class aristocrats, Tullio Hermil, who is a self-professed atheist and totally amoral individual whose selfishness and lack of conscience drive him to psychological torture and ultimately brutal acts. He is married to Giuliana and has a mistress, Teresa Raffo (another aristocrat and played with panache by Jennifer O’Neill). The way that Tullio and Giuliana’s marriage has degenerated into a complete travesty of that estate is characteristic of Tullio’s outlook on life. There are many scenes early in the film where Tullio humbles and hurts his wife by telling her the details of his affair. He constantly shames her and ensures she knows her place by telling her he regards her as a sister rather than a wife.
His capricious and demanding mistress, Teresa, is more than his match and she will ultimately detach herself from him. Tullio goes back to his wife only to discover that she has had a lover herself and that now she is pregnant. His vanity and “honour” are wounded and he demands that his wife has an abortion so that they can “have another try” at their marriage. She, however, resists and the baby is born. Tullio’s repugnant character comes to the fore in the conclusion of the film and the whole elaborate edifice of “nobility” and “aristocracy” that has been created by Tullio crumbles into a heap of worthless debris.
The images and cinematography of this film are stunning and although the pace is slow, we did not find it tiresome at all. The plot, although not convoluted nor assisted by any subplots keeps our interest up throughout. Tullio’s appalling character has a morbid fascination and we watch spellbound as his repulsive acts are piled one atop the other. Giancarlo Giannini who plays Tullio is exceptionally good in this role and he acts with every particle of his body. His face can convey enormously powerfully every shade of feeling and emotion that is demanded of him and the close up shots of his eyes I found particularly chilling. In fact, this not a film for the faint-hearted, as despite its “soap opera”-like plot, there is real depth and subtlety in both the story and the translation onto the silver screen.
An excellent original musical score by Franco Mannino is complemented by classical selections, including one particularly ironic use of Gluck’s “Che Farò Senza Euridice”, the aria Orpheus sings when his beloved wife, Euridice, dies. The costumes and sets look amazingly authentic and complement the action extremely well. One is drawn into this historical period of decadence and decline, a perfect setting for the tale depicted. In short, this a masterpiece from a master director, a fitting goodbye from the artist who also gave us: “Death in Venice”, “The Damned”, “The Leopard” and “Conversation Piece”.