Luchino Visconti

August 5–8, 12–15, 19–22, 26–29 at Pacific Film Archive

All fourteen features-plus three segments from omnibus films and a rare documentary-directed by Luchino Visconti (1906-1976) will be shown at Pacific Film Archive during the month of August in this series, which includes five new prints. The series begins on Thursday, August 5 and continues on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through August 29. Screenings will be held in the PFA Theater, located at 2575 Bancroft Way near Bowditch Street on the southern edge of the UC Berkeley campus. General admission is $8 for one film and $10 for double bills; there are reduced admission prices for members, students, seniors, children and persons with disabilities. This series is a presentation of Cinecittà Holding and Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, Rome. We thank the Consulate General of Italy and Italian Cultural Institute, San Francisco, for their generous support.

A Marxist aristocrat, Visconti is probably best known in the U.S. for his films Death in Venice and The Leopard, though at various times he dominated Italian opera (directing Maria Callas) and theater (where he introduced works by Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller). During his career, he was hailed for films of dispassionate social and historical commentary and for works of florid, operatic sensuality. Visconti's film career began when he worked (thanks to an introduction from his then-lover Coco Chanel) as a third assistant director to Jean Renoir on A Day in the Country. Renoir passed along to Visconti a script based on The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, and in 1942, Visconti filmed this story of a woman, a drifter, and a murder as his first feature, Ossessione. Its powerful noir sensibilities and sympathy for ordinary people stood in sharp contrast to the "White Telephone" movies of Fascist Italy. Critics have variously hailed it as the first neorealist film or as a crucial precursor to the neorealist movement. His second film, La Terra Trema, is a lyrical, austere masterwork about impoverished Sicilian fishermen, and his third feature, Bellissima, features a searing performance by Anna Magnani as the stage mother to end all.

Senso, a passionate, operatic tale of romantic and political betrayal, is set (as is The Leopard) in the 1860s, an era of patriotic Italian resistance to Austrian rule. The dreamy, beautiful White Nights stars Marcello Mastroianni (in his first major screen role), Maria Schell, and Jean Marais in an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's 1848 story. Alain Delon stars in the magnificent family saga Rocco and His Brothers, a fatalistic tale of a widow and her five sons who move to Milan from the impoverished south of Italy. One of Visconti's finest films is The Leopard, a sumptuous, panoramic history of a family during the Risorgimento, drawn from Giuseppe di Lampedusa's novel. Burt Lancaster plays a Sicilian nobleman who sees power slipping away from his class; Alain Delon enacts the role of his radical nephew, who fights with Garibaldi.

Vaghe stelle dell'orsa, aka Sandra, depicts a family haunted by the Holocaust and by recent secrets. The Stranger, listed as tentative in our printed Film Notes, is now confirmed. This is a very rare opportunity to see Visconti's adaptation of the existential novel by Albert Camus. "Marcello Mastroianni plays Meursault, the Camus hero, very simply, with scrupulous intelligence and concentration" (-Pauline Kael). The Damned is a sensational vision of German decadence during the rise of Nazism; it was Rainer Werner Fassbinder's favorite film and, according to Volker Schlöndorff, it captured the mood of the era better than any other film. Ludwig II, which director Olivier Assayas called "a flood of inspiration," is a romantic tragedy and a luxuriant, Wagnerian portrait of the life of the mad king of Bavaria. Visconti's most famous film, Death in Venice, depicts the final days of a composer (played by Dirk Bogarde, dressed to resemble Gustav Mahler). Based on a novella by Thomas Mann, the film is suffused with the beauty of the city, of the young boy who fascinates the composer, and of the expressive strains of Mahler's Fifth Symphony. Conversation Piece revisits some of the themes of Death in Venice in a contemporary setting, with Burt Lancaster as a solitary professor whose ordered life is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of new neighbors. The Innocent, Visconti's final film, is based on a novel by Gabriele D'Annunzio, and depicts an arrogant aristocrat whose passion for his wife is re-ignited when he learns she's been unfaithful.

Our series also includes three wonderful Visconti contributions to omnibus films. Anna Magnani, part of the 1953 film "We, the Women," recreates a vignette from the life of the great actress. The Witch Burned Alive, starring Silvano Mangano as a pregnant movie star, is from "The Witches," And we will screen, from "Boccaccio '70," The Job, in which Romy Schneider plays a countess who decides to charge her philandering husband for sex. This film, screening on Sunday, August 15 at 4:15 pm, was added to the series after we published our film notes, as was the rare 1945 documentary Days of Glory, about the Italian Resistance during the German Occupation of Rome. It will be shown at 5:30 pm on Saturday, August 7 and at 4 pm on Sunday, August 9.

Click for the series schedule. For further program or ticket information, please phone (510) 642-1412.

Posted by admin on July 14, 2004