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Death in Venice

(Morte a Venezia)
Italy 1971. Director: Luchino Visconti
Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Björn Andrésen, Silvana Mangano, Marisa Berenson, Romolo Valli

Italian master Luchino Visconti’s most famous film, a lush, contemplative adaptation of Thomas Mann’s renowned novel, stars Dirk Bogarde as Gustav von Aschenbach, a sadly declining composer (a writer in Mann’s original, but a thinly-disguised Gustav Mahler in both book and film) making a final journey to fin de siècle Venice. There, at an elegant seaside hotel, he becomes aesthetically transfixed by — and carnally drawn to — Tadzio, an androgynous 14-year-old Polish boy who embodies the beauty and purity of the muse that no longer speaks to him. Death in Venice makes felicitous use of Mahler’s rapturous music on the soundtrack, and employs the decay and corruption of the decomposing city as an analogue for the central character’s own irreversible desiccation. As the ageing aesthete Aschenbach — his ardour too-long repressed, its last flicker leaving him a pathetically rouged and powdered object of ridicule — Bogarde gives a career performance. The film was awarded the 1971 Cannes Film Festival’s special 25th Anniversary Prize. “The apotheosis of the old cinema, beautifully composed and photographed, this is a perfect evocation of period and atmosphere, an elegy of melancholy and remorse” (Amos Vogel, Film as a Subversive Art). Colour, 35mm. 128 mins.