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Watched on DVD from Lovefilm.

This is my second Visconti film in the last month, and like Il Gattopardo it is again very slow-paced. The technicolor look of the earlier film has largely been left behind in favour of a more neutral colour palette, which is partly imposed by the stones of the Venetian setting anyway, but also suits the sombre, washed-up mood of the main character. But there are also flashes of bright colours - vases of flowers, bowls of fruits, hats, swimming-costumes and the red hair of the street musician. Since the main theme of the film is the search for beauty, and the near-impossibility of identifying it or attaining it, I think these are mainly intended to represent a) transience (especially the flowers and fruit) and b) the brashness which often masquerades as beauty.

The direction is again theatrical, and the landscape serves as a backdrop to the characters rather than playing a role of its own. Most of Venice is glimpsed only over Gustav von Aschenbach's shoulders as he moves around the city, and even St. Mark's square appears only in fragments viewed between columns in the surrounding portico. There is also very little incidental music. It is used only occasionally at moments of significant development, and the majority of the music in the film is instead diegetic (i.e. in-story music such as a character playing the piano). On top of this, the dialogue is quite limited - Aschenbach simply has few people to speak to in Venice, so that a lot of the film shows him moving around on his own, watching the people around him but not interacting with them. Together with the absence of music and wide shots, it makes for a very desolate atmosphere, emphasising Aschenbach's isolation and the emptiness of his life.

And this is all very clever and effective, I'm sure. But I found it hard to really like the film, because I just found Gustav von Aschenbach so repulsive. I don't think we are meant to like him - he is explicitly shown as narrow-minded, staid and intolerant. But I presume we are meant to feel some sympathy for him, being rejected by audiences back home in Munich and discovering in Venice that he can see what real artistry consists of but will never be able to reach or connect with it. Perhaps we are supposed to recognise the universal tragedy of the human condition in his journey through the film. But instead, when he sat there on the lido having his final heart-attack, his grotesque death-mask make-up dripping down his face while he reached out hopelessly for the distant figure of Tadzio paddling in the water, I was sitting there thinking "Oh, for heaven's sake get on and die already, and leave the pretty Polish boy alone!"

Maybe that is partly how we are supposed to feel, and then be horrified by our own reactions. But maybe I didn't care.

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Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
a_d_medievalist
Aug. 9th, 2009 03:40 pm (UTC)
I watched this in the only film studies class I ever too, and found it incredibly tedious.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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