First up is Luchino Visconti's Senso (1954), which some consider to be Visconti's break from neo-realism. In an interesting essay on the Criterion Collection website, filmmaker Mark Rappaport distinguishes Visconti's earlier films from other neo-realists like De Sica and Rossellini in the first place, noting that Visconti was always more interested in visual style and mise-en-scene just as much as he was interested in contemporary realism. Describing Senso, Rappaport writes, "It is as if we were in a Manet painting twenty-four frames a second. . .You don’t want to hang the images on the wall. You want to live in them. The figures move in architectural surroundings with the grace and elegance of Veronese figures come to life." Like Douglas Sirk, whom I seem to be mentioning quite often on this blog lately, Visconti was also interested in the expressive possibilities of melodrama; Rapapport begins his essay with a quote from Visconti: "Melodrama has a bad reputation because it has been abandoned to schematic and conventional interpretation." Both Sirk and Visconti, however, went beyond schematic and conventional examples of the melodramatic form, resulting in rich, textured experiences that maximize emotional affect.
Senso (Luchino Visconti, Italy, 1954, 123 minutes)
Netflix: Italian Countess Livia Serpieri (Alida Valli), whose family leads an underground resistance during the Austrian occupation of Italy, risks her marriage, family, friends and political standing when she gives in to her lust for Austrian Lt. Franz Mahler (Farley Granger). Set in the late 19th century, director Luchino Visconti's luxurious, emotionally charged film is an adaptation of Camillo Boito's novella Senso. Netflix link.
Begins streaming 4/22/11
In perhaps an odd move, I'm going to provide a link for something that I don't want you to stream: the English dubbed version of Visconti's The Leopard. By all accounts, it is far inferior to the original Italian language version, but unfortunately it is the English language version that is currently streaming on Netflix Watch Instantly. Still, perhaps after watching Senso you might want to seek out the Italian language DVD or Blu-ray of The Leopard.
The Leopard (English Version, Luchino Visconti, Italy, 1963, 161 minutes)
In this war drama set in 1860s Sicily, Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Burt Lancaster) attempts to hold onto the glory he once knew, while his nephew, Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon), has joined opposition forces and is being heralded as a war hero. As Falconeri begins to fall for Angelica (Claudia Cardinale), the daughter of the town's new mayor, Don Calogero Sedara (Paolo Stoppa), Salina must learn to accept his changing political status. Netflix link.