Saturday, December 10, 2011

#556: Senso

(Luchino Visconti, 1954)

Senso probably would have hit me more if I hadn't already watched Visconti's masterpiece, The Leopard. After that film, released nine years later, Senso feels like a dress rehearsal for the movie Visconti was born to make. This is unfair, not just because Visconti had other great films (Obsession and Rocco and His Brothers would make great additions to the collection, and I've yet to see his third entry, La Notte Bianchi) but because Senso is a spectacular, extremely entertaining period melodrama.

In terms of story, the film reminded me a great deal of The Earrings of Madame De... Both films have powerful independent women destroyed by extra-marital, all-consuming love. Both are also sumptuously filmed by directors that don't spend a lot of time worrying if someone is going to find their production "a little much." Like Ophüls, Visconti is a showman before anything and the costumes, set design, cinematography, and writing (by way of narration in particular) are extremely flashy, verging on over-the-top. The "twist" in the final act can be seen a mile away, but Senso isn't really about who's putting one over on whom. The countess's decision in the final moments remains satisfying, though.

As in Burt Lancaster did in The Leopard, Farley Granger speaks English in Senso and is dubbed into Italian - which is then translated back into English in the form of subtitles. While it would certainly be strange to have Granger speaking English while everyone else spoke Italian, it might be interesting to see, just as I am looking forward to watching The Leopard in English as a pure novelty.


  1. I haven't seen every Criterion new release of 2011, but this was my 3rd favorite of the year from them. Nice to feel a bit of validation from your endorsement of Senso!

  2. Yeah, I didn't have much to say about it since it's so impeccably made and entertaining (despite being kind of an emotional snuff film) - kind of speaks for itself.

    Actually, your selection was my motivation for moving it up to the top of my hulu queue - especially because you had my favorite release of the year, Fish Tank, right with it. Now that I think about it, those two movies have a vague connection in that they are both stories about women who are sexually deceived within a larger social context - but the similarities probably end there! :)

    Have you seen The Leopard yet? I know it's coming up in your queue. It really is a masterpiece, I can't build it up enough.

  3. I saw The Leopard a few years ago, but on my old CRT TV and the DVD version - it was still pretty impressive, but nothing compared to the sample scenes from the blu-ray that I've taken in on my HDTV. I fully expect The Leopard to surpass Senso in overall grandeur, but I felt inclined to give Senso a strong endorsement among this year's crop of Criterion films because it was really their only example of old-fashioned cinematic Technicolor spectacle and emotional extravagance of 2011. Everything else they released had more of this bad-ass edge to it (except The Mikado, which I just didn't enjoy all that much), or was a newer film, or both!

    The Senso/Fish Tank parallels about mistreated manipulated women, slight as they are against the vast chasm of social constructions separating them both, did occur to me as I was watching them during the week before that podcast, but I don't think I brought them up when we were talking. Thanks for reminding me! :)