Visconti’s Last Film
Luchino Visconti, the great Italian film director, brought the world his final film in 1976, and it just happens to be one of the auteur’s very best. “L’Innocente” (1976) is an intricately woven study of a marriage coming undone, coming together and coming undone again. It is is a portrait of power that shows how jealousy can be a defining characteristic for a person. Tullio Hermil (Giancarlo Giannini) is a well-to-do man in 19th-century Italy who enjoys fencing and deciding which of his inherited estates to reside in. His wife Giuliana (Laura Antonelli) lives the good life as well. She goes to recitals and stands by her husband’s side. Tullio may have loved Giuliana at some point, but when the audience first meets him, he is having a tryst with mistress, Teresa Raffo (Jennifer O’Neill). He falls so madly in love with her, and how different she is from his wife, that he decides to come clean and propose an open marriage. What surprises him is that Giuliana is not simply going to play the part of the scorned woman; she has an affair with the novelist Filippo d’Arborio (Marc Porel), Tullio’s fencing partner.
Tullio refuses to end his marriage to Giuliana, especially when he finds out that his wife is pregnant with Filippo’s child. His jealousy overcomes him, and he falls back in love with his wife and obsesses about her living a life without him.
This quite easily could have become a melodrama but instead Visconti’s film goes for something deeper. On an elemental level, this is a deconstruction of power dynamics. Tullio believes he has the upper hand at all times, even though reality would seem to say otherwise. It is impossible to control how life will evolve but he’s willing to try.
There’s a lot of romance in the film with real sensuality to Tullio and Giuliana’s on-again-off-again relationship, and they have fascinating conversations before and after making love. Through these discussions and fights, we see that the marriage is not one of equality. Giuliana must face the discrimination of the times (her husband can have an affair, but she cannot) and the mad antics of Tullio. As he takes his obsession to some dark places, she is seemingly stuck, unable to get a divorce and unable to recognize her own husband anymore.
The costumes and set design are exquisite and. The women’s dresses are intricate and colorful; the men’s suits are stylish. The estates where Visconti has the action play out are wonderfully filled with detail and authenticity.
The performances are uniformly excellent, with Giannini and Antonelli having the juiciest characters. He has an intensity and rage that can be frightening, yet he’s also tender and loving. He is like a chameleon that makes his moves uncertain and potentially dangerous. She is strong and independent, but stuck in a societal and religious prison, with her husband dictating decisions.
“L’Innocente” shows Visconti’s directorial dedication and his artistry. This familial drama is captivating and shows qualities far the word “innocent.” The film is based on the controversial 1892 novel by Gabriele d’Annunzio, who flirted with Fascism when it arose in its early stages and was co-written by Visconti, Suso Cecchi D’Amico and Enrico Medioli. This is a tragic film about sexual double standards and was the inspiration behind Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence.”
Visconti directed the film from a wheelchair, following two strokes and a broken leg. He remained as painstaking as ever, spending hours getting everything in the film just right. It is available on Blu-ray for the very first time in North America. Bonus programming includes a video essay and 16-page collectible booklet.
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