My history with Italian neorealism has been a checkered one, to say the least. So too is my experience with Luchino Visconti, at least as far as I’ve seen of him. So now, to have the two combined in what many regard as the progenitor of the genre of Italian neorealism was not a welcoming prospect for me, even less so since the film was over two hours long. Ossessione is Italian for obsession, and the concept is explored thoroughly throughout Visconti’s film, in, naturally, the best and most effective method possible; through two people whose obsession with each other leads them both to tragic fates. Despite its length, and despite its neorealist undertones, I did find myself enjoying this one, though it was only thanks to me putting myself in the mindset that the film required.
The film is an adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, which would also be adapted in Hollywood three years later into a film that would also make the list, so the rough outline of the plot is a familiar one. A wanderer named Gino traipses into a roadside restaurant run by opera lover Bragana and his wife Giovanna. After making friends with Bragana to the point where he is hired on as a mechanic and worker, Gino and Giovanna begin an affair, one that leads them to plot to have Bragana meet an unfortunate end so that they may be together. But, as the title of Cain’s novel will tell you, justice is always a step behind every wrongdoer, and it’s only a matter of time for the both of them. For a film that would be marked as a precursor to the Italian neorealist movement, this was only barely neorealist, at least to me. The mood and production value of the film aside, this had a lot more melodrama than neorealism is normally known for, mostly through the music, which would swell up with emotion whenever something daring or shocking would happen in the film. I guess that’s why I ended up liking it a little more than pure neorealist works like Open City. This also had more of a plot than other films of the genre, which seem content to merely be rather than provide a narrative to follow. The film did seem to drag on a bit in the second half; there was about an hour left in the film when it felt like there should only be a half hour left, tops, and the film tries to get away with it by stretching the plot unnecessarily with explorations of Gino and Giovanna’s relationship after the “accident”, which only served to make me painfully aware of how much runtime there was left in the film. Needless to say, however, when the film was on point, it worked really well, mostly thanks to the incredible chemistry between the main couple. If anyone need wonder what true “animal magnetism” looks like on the screen, watch Ossessione. From the first moment Gino and Giovanna lay eyes on each other, it is immediately apparent that they are attracted to one another, and indeed it only takes a bike ride into town on Bragana’s part for the two to almost throw themselves into bed together. I don’t think I’ve seen a display of such romantic machismo since A Streetcar Named Desire, and that’s saying something.
This ended up being held from release in America until the 1970s due to copyright issues, and indeed the film may never even have seen the light of day; the fascist regime in Italy saw the film and destroyed every print they could find of it, and the film only survives thanks to a personal print Visconti kept hidden for years. For a film that foresaw the Italian neorealist movement to just barely toe the line toward being a lost film itself would seem to be an automatic in on the list, but this is also a pretty good film to boot; well made, with some interesting camera shots and dollies that up the production value a little higher than it would have been thanks to the neorealist underworkings. As I mentioned, the second half does drag quite a bit, and goes off on a slightly tangential story direction seemingly for no other reason than to pad the film’s length, but it doesn’t detract from the film as a whole too largely. If you can stand burgeoning neorealism for a little over two hours, this’ll be a pretty nice way to spend your time.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10