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operatic drama a treat for fans
on May 22, 2011
Criterion has made lots of people very happy with this comprehensive release of Luchino Visconti's 1954 masterpiece SENSO. Loosely based on Camillo Boito's novella of the same name, SENSO is the story of a doomed love affair, set during the turmoil of Austria-occupied Italy in 1866.
During a performance of "Il trovatore" at La Fenice, the Countess Livia (Alida Valli) meets Austrian officer Franz Mahler (Farley Granger). The two fall into a torrid love affair, which is made all the more scandalous because of their individual loyalties. When Franz begs Livia to give him the money he needs in order to bribe certain officials and exit the army, Livia reluctantly hands over the Italian partisan funds that were entrusted to her by her cousin, exiled because of his actions in trying to undermine the Austrian army. When she later receives a rather strange letter from Franz, Livia follows him back to Verona, where her ever-crumbling sanity reaches the breaking point...
SENSO is a delicate piece which borders on the operatic. It's not by coincidence that shortly after this film, Luchino Visconti became one of the most prolific opera directors in Europe. Leading actors Alida Valli and Farley Granger both deliver superb performances, but the star of SENSO is undoubtedly the bewitching Ms Valli, who in her performance as the Countess Livia, is almost an opera heroine in real-life.
Lush in it's design and photography, it's strange to think that SENSO sadly didn't make much of an impression during it's original release in 1954. Critics felt that Luchino Visconti was "betraying" his neo-realist attitudes, not quite realising that in SENSO he beautifully blended neo-realism with theatrical grandeur, therefore creating a whole new genre of filmmaking.
Criterion's two-disc DVD package includes the seldom-seen English language dub of SENSO entitled "The Wanton Countess", which is significantly shorter than the original Italian cut. The English dub is noteworthy in that both Farley Granger and Alida Valli's voices can finally be heard. The print of "The Wanton Countess", supplied by Harvard University, isn't in the best shape, with lots of jumps and splices; Aldo Graziati's colour photography is dulled considerably with the film sadly looking like it's been soaked in brown tea. Rest assured that the original Italian cut of SENSO looks crisp and beautiful by comparison.