films seen
average score
Alive and kicking


Death in Venice

Morte a Venezia
1971 / 130m - Italy
Death in Venice poster

Visconti is best known as one of the cornerstones of the Italian Neo-Realist cinema, so I was quite surprised to find a film like Death in Venice. This one was all atmosphere and repressed emotion, a slow-moving drama about the quest for beauty that never really dulls, even at 130 minutes long.

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A sick and aging composer goes to Venice to recover from his health issues. There he becomes fixated with a young boy on vacation. The boy represents pure beauty for the composer, something he has chased for his entire life. Though the plague is threatening to swoop Venice, he can't leave the place behind.

The music is soothing, the cinematography pretty delicate and moody, the performances subdued. It's really everything that Italian cinema is not, so this was a happy surprise. It's not quite as pretty as some make it out to be, but it's certainly my favorite Visconti so far. I guess I need to try his other end-of-career films next.

La Terra Trema

1948 / 160m - Italy
La Terra Trema poster

I'm not a big fan of the Italian Neo-Realist films, so my expectations were quite low when I started La Terra Trema. I will say that the first hour or so was a very pleasant surprise, mostly because of its doc-like nature. Not that it was great, but it was certainly a lot better than I had expected.

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Visconti points his camera on a small Sicilian village, where the poor people spend their time fishing. They are exploited by the wholesale sellers, so the young boys in the village come up with a plan to buy their own boat, trying to go independent. That's a lot easier said than done.

The grim black and white cinematography doesn't do justice to the beauty of Sicily, but it does fit the bleak nature of the film. The first half is by far the best I've seen in the niche, the length does become quite problematic though, and I lost interest during the second half, also because the drama became more prominent. A shame, as the potential was there to be better.

The Leopard

Il Gattopardo
1963 / 186m - Italy
The Leopard poster

My second Visconti wasn't really a success either. After seeing Rocco and His Brothers ages ago, it was time to give the man another chance. It might not have been the best idea to go for a 3-hour film, on the other hand The Leopard is one of Visconti's most respected films, so what the heck.

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I will admit that his films look much nicer in full color. I don't remember much of Rocco, but I do remember the dreary black and white cinematography. To see Italy in all its colorful glory is a relief. That goes for both the scenes inside and the ones outdoors, with the latter being the most impressive (thanks to Sicily, at least in part).

The story was less interesting, mixing Italian history with cheesy drama while having a go at the aging aristocrats. Though I have to say that the clumsy dialogues and overdone performances didn't help the story one bit. The soundtrack too is annoying, scraping away the atmosphere built up by the cinematography. The incredibly lengthy and pompous ball scene at the end was the final nail in The Leopard's coffin. I don't think I'm a big Visconti fan.

Rocco and His Brothers

Rocco e i Suoi Fratelli
1960 / 177m - Italy
Crime, Drama
Rocco and His Brothers poster


1943 / 140m - Italy
Obsession poster

Visconti's first. I'm not a big fan of Italian neo-realist cinema, but it's clear that Obsession was a key film in its rise, even when the real boom would only come in the next decade. All the trademark elements are already here and it's a big change from the kind of cinema that was popular at the time.

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My biggest problem with the movement is the excessive/expressive acting, which stands in strong contrast with the realist overtones of the story and the cinematography. There are too many grand gestures, too many overt emotions, almost as if the actors were still used to doing silents. It takes me out of the drama and makes for rather annoying characters.

And that's a real problem, because Visconti leans quite heavily on the drama. The story is pretty basic, the crime elements are minimal and the pacing is slow. The cinematography is unremarkable, the soundtrack rather shrill, so aesthetically there's not much there either. Not my thing, but no doubt an important film.


1954 / 123m - Italy
Senso poster

Visconti isn't the worst of the classic Italian directors, but he's not a real stand-out either. Senso is the weakest of his films I've seen so far, so drenched in melodrama and kitsch that the 2-hour runtime felt at least twice as long. Quite a difficult film to sit through if you don't care about the drama and the romance.

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An Italian countess is married to a Venetian nobleman but during the final days of the Austrian occupation she hooks up with an Austrian officer. The two have a passionate affair, though the countess suspects that the love might be a little one-sided, as the officer seems more interested in her money and reputation.

The colors are gruesome and the score is rather unpleasant, the performances are extremely over-the-top and the drama (let's call it sentimentality) is well beyond acceptable. I didn't care for any of the characters, I found the film terrible to look at and two hours was just way too long. One of the lesser Italian classics I've seen.