Senso Jaime March 2014

Senso is set during the 19th century at a time when Italy was fighting against the intervention of Austrian forces in places like Venice As I had mentioned in my review of Italian director Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, for the restoration of this technicolor gem, we have Martin Scorsese to thank, and for the existence of this work, we have Luchino Visconti to praise.

The Players:

  • Director: Luchino Visconti
  • Writer:  Carlo Alianello, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Giorgio Bassani, Luchino Visconti, Giorgio Prosperi
  • Cast:  Alida Valli, Farley Granger


In the midst of war between Italy and Austria, Italian Countess Livia Serpieri (Alida Valli) finds herself swept off her feet by Austrian officer Franz Mahler (Farley Granger).  Filled with guilt, betrayal, and selfishness, Livia follows a romantic affair with tragic implications.

There is so much excellence here.  For one, it is difficult to fully convey its beauty, especially since its aesthetic value doesn’t stem merely from lush images and saturated colors.  It creates an atmosphere that can’t be ignored; The locations are a huge part of the movie’s charm. Without having highly ornate surroundings, as period pieces often have, the mostly dilapidated streets and interiors are framed and lit with a level of artistic mastery where less is more.  But this is also not to say that Senso has a DIY aesthetic, since it did have the biggest budget in Italian history.  When speaking of its more epic elements, it is impossible not to mention the war sequence.  While it noticeably doesn’t show us soldiers engaging in hand-to-hand combat, what makes this sequence riveting is the level of detail.  The camera holds still and simply places us within view of various situations within a battlefield under bombardment.

There is a very intriguing quality to Visconti’s films, and I’ve only now seen two out of fourteen.  The other film was The Leopard.  They feel like movies, filled with so much atmosphere that you feel transported to another place and time.  Senso starts with a majestic opening sequence at an opera, and the events that unfold afterwards are themselves comparable on a dramatic and tragic scale.  But what I found imperfect at times is the extent of melodramatic fluff, sometimes too overdrawn.  This is a film that would be perfect if some of its romance-novel aspects were cut by about 15 minutes.  I hesitate to deem this movie “great”, but I find it hard to deny its power.  In both Senso and The Leopard, there is so much context to understand, particularly the political backdrop.  Senso is set during the 19th century, at a time when Italy was fighting off the foreign intervention of the Austrian Empire in places like Venice.  By understanding this particular set of circumstances, only more weight can be given to each subsequent viewing, particularly adding complexity to the secret love affair that emerges between Livia and Franz.

Senso Jaime 2 March 2014

Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:

Although my initial response to Senso is not without certain criticisms, I am in admiration of its visual power and its poetic storytelling.  Throughout the film, Livia’s voice-over is sparse enough to allow breathing room for the rest of the film and consistent enough to barely resemble an moral barometer.  But despite being selfish, she avoids becoming an easy target for us.  As Ebert states in his review, each character here is “rotten to the core”.  When reading Ebert’s review of The Leopard a few weeks ago, I agreed with Ebert that much of that film would feel like a soap opera in the hands of other directors.  However, with Senso, I’m not quite so sure.  Specifically during the second act, the hopelessly romantic dialogue between Livia and Franz could have been toned down significantly without detracting from what is otherwise a remarkable filmwatching experience.  The rest of Ebert’s review is an treasured example of how plots can be described and brought into a written conversation.

Good, Bad or Great Movie:  GOOD

Do you like Senso?  Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?

Next week’s review:  Pixote

Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, a monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 363 films (more if you count the trilogies, the Up docs and Decalogue).  Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response.  By taking on Luchino Visconti’s Senso this week, he now has 351 under his belt and less than 15 films left to go.