Death in Venice

“Visconti's Death In Venice is, as Thomas Mann would have wished, a meditation on beauty. From the first ghostly shots of Aschenbach arriving by boat at dawn, to the final vision of his slumped body in the deck chair, dwindling in the telephoto lens, there is hardly a false moment. It matters little if Aschenbach be a writer or a composer (and Visconti has boldly assumed that Mann's aging homosexual was Gustav Mahler); what counts is his stay - and his death - in Venice, a city where Time and the unseen cholera mock the traveller. Visconti conjures up the congealed elegance of the grand hotels, the romance of the colonnades and canal bridges, and uses his zoom lens repeatedly to suggest the imminence and yet intangibility of Tadzio (Björn Andresen), until at last the youth wades out to sea, a mystical figure withdrawing into the sunset like Aschenbach's own tenuous hold on life, while the sublime strains of Mahler's Fifth exalt the long-held moment. Dirk Bogarde may be too young for the part, but despite his scanty lines he achieves an astonishing range of expression. Even beneath the operatic make-up bestowed on him by the ardent Venetian hairdresser towards the end, his features unmistakably betray his yearning and anxiety. It is a performance, like Visconti's mise en scène, of infinite care and control.”

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