(The Wanton Countess)
Alida Valli, Farley Granger, Massimo Girotti, Heinz Moog,
Restored by Studiocanal, Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia-Cineteca Nazionale, and Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata. Restoration funding provided by Gucci, The Film Foundation, and Comitato Italia 150.
Visconti’s first costume drama abandons his earlier neorealist style for a lush, near-operatic account of love and betrayal during the 1860s Italian resistance to Austrian rule. The film’s masterful opening sequence introduces its themes: patriotism and doomed love, mirrored to a swooning aria, as a performance of a Verdi opera triggers the audience to chant anti-Austrian slogans, and brings together a cynical young Austrian soldier (Farley Granger) with an older, sensual Italian countess (Alida Valli). Smitten with the downmarket charm of the young man, this “wanton countess” (the film’s American release title) soon abandons her husband, and subsequently, as Italy grows more revolutionary, her country. Visconti integrates enough historical accuracy and explicit political allegory to please the most scholarly Marxist (and therefore to have displeased the Italian censors, who insisted on many cuts), but Senso is foremost, as the title indicates, an overwhelmingly sensual experience, luxuriant and baroque.