The Wanton Countess (Senso)

Senso

Viva Italia!

When I looked up Senso and saw that it was not only directed by Luchino Visconti, but was a melodrama to boot, I could feel myself groaning with displeasure at having to watch this one. Indeed, even as I started it, during the film’s opening, which takes place during an opera, I knew exactly where this film was going to be headed. A film about as far removed from Visconti’s earlier neorealist work as can be, Senso is a lavish affair filled with romance, and more than a touch of schadenfreude. I gathered from the first few minutes that this would be a film that I wouldn’t care for, and I ended up more right than even I wanted to be.

Alida Valli is Countess Serpieri, who, at the aforementioned opera that starts the film, ends up meeting Lieutenant Mahler, played by Farley Granger, and garners an immediate attraction to him. She begins an affair with the man, even despite the relationship evolving to where Mahler begins looking for other women and using the countess for her position and wealth. This is where I have a bit of a problem with Senso, because of where the plot goes from here. Without spoiling too much, Countess Serpieri falls blindly in love with Mahler, to the point that she eventually will do literally anything and everything for the chance to be with him, including absolutely blindsiding her cousin Roberto by basically stealing the money he intended to use to fund the Italian efforts in a war with Austria, causing a whole regiment of Italians to be wiped out in the war effort due to their lack of funding. The film’s plot was already losing me by that point, but that was really where I checked out entirely and opted to watch the remainder merely for the very nice use of color and production design, which the film does have, made even more appreciable by the fact that this was Visconti’s first color film. Needless to say, though, the plot continued in the same fashion, until the inevitable ending for both characters. I guess I can’t fault the film for telling the story it did, but I certainly couldn’t empathize with such a willfully blissful idiot, who basically gives away, as the Book puts it, her life, husband, and even her country for someone who is so obviously using her. It was basically the same problem I had with Le Gamin au Velo, and it was not a welcome one to have.

Apparently this was truncated pretty heavily for an English-language version, where it was given the title The Wanton Countess, which I found quite apropos. Regardless, no matter which version you see, I’m pretty sure the plot stays the same, so if the plot doesn’t sound particularly appetizing to you, then this one is probably not worth your time. Even the pluses, the production value and use of color, aren’t anything that can’t be found in other films, by Visconti or otherwise, so this ended up being pretty much a superfluous watch for me. Checked it off the list, done and done; no need to see it again.

Arbitrary Rating: 6/10

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