Judge Ben Saylor is innocente until proven guilty.
"I wonder why men want to raise us up to the stars with one hand and drag us down with the other. Why don't you let us walk next to you on Earth? Two creatures side by side. Woman next to man. No more, no less."
Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti has long had a secure place in film history for much-heralded films such as Rocco and his Brothers, Le Notti Bianche and The Leopard. His directorial career, which began in the 1940s, came to a close with L'Innocente, which was released in 1976, the year of Visconti's death. With Koch Lorber's new DVD release of the film, viewers may now determine whether the filmmaker's swan song represents another feather in his cap or an unfortunate footnote.
Facts of the Case
Aristocrat Tullio Hermil (Giancarlo Giannini, Quantum of Solace) cares for his wife Giuliana (Laura Antonelli, Malizia), but only in the manner of a sibling or friend. His passion is reserved for the Countess Raffo (Jennifer O'Neill, Scanners). But Tullio finds his charmed existence changed forever when he learns that Giuliana has been seeing another man.
Luchino Visconti's films (well, the relatively small number of his films I've seen) are a taste that I've yet to fully acquire. This left me apprehensive about L'Innocente, which I had never heard of, as opposed to films such as Rocco and his Brothers and The Leopard, both of which come with high praise attached to them.
L'Innocente is a withering portrait of an aristocrat and his way of life, giving the film a passing resemblance to The Leopard. With L'Innocente, Visconti plunges the viewer into a world where the lovely scenery conceals the ugliness of its denizens. In watching this film, it is readily apparent that Visconti's edge had not dulled by the end of his career.
Visconti, Suso Cecchi d'Amico and Enrico Medioli's script for L'Innocente (from a book by Gabrielle d'Annunzio) does a good job establishing the relationships of the three characters early on-and then gradually pulling them apart. Interestingly, we never see any scenes of Giuliana's dalliance, although we know her lover's identity; Visconti is smart (and, at least in this film, subtle) enough to allow the two to merely exchange glances. After this, the two are never seen together again onscreen. What we (and Tullio) get instead is the evidence of Giuliana's affair-a child. This infant, which gives the film its title, becomes to Tullio something impossible to look at, a horror. (There is also the irony that an earlier pregnancy between Tullio and Giuliana ended with the couple losing the child.) Tullio had already known about the affair at this point, and was filled with a newfound desire for the woman he married. News of the baby, however, changes things, and sets into motion the tragic events that conclude the film.
Tullio is a fascinating character. Here is a man who not only cheats on his wife, but discusses the matter with her quite freely, even imploring her to give him understanding and support: "I'm unfair," Tullio tells Giuliana. "I'm sorry. You have to be patient with me. As with an ill person." Her reply: "An ill person who rejoices in his own illness." To his own way of thinking, Tullio is living his life exactly how he should be in that he does whatever he pleases. For him, as an atheist, there is nothing after death, and he clearly doesn't care about the effects of his actions on others while he lives his life. It is a system that works for Tullio-"an ill person who rejoices in his own illness" -but one that is hardly foolproof, as Tullio learns the hard way.
L'Innocente, while scathing in its portrayal of Tullio and his social class, is nonetheless a quieter film for Visconti, especially compared to the melodrama of Senso or the high-pitched neo-realism of Rocco and his Brothers. This tone suits the director well, particularly during a visit by Tullio and Giuliana to an empty country house. In this sequence, which is probably the best in the film, the couple has a fleeting moment of passion. It is beautifully photographed (Pasqualino De Santis shot the film), especially the portion where the two are outdoors and the shots alternate between Tullio and Giuliana walking and close-ups of each of them as they move. This moment is indicative of the skillful use of both close-ups and longer shots throughout the film. Another surprising moment comes when Tullio has a fencing match with Filippo (Marc Porel), his wife's lover. For this sequence, I was expecting an over-the-top confrontation, but the action abruptly cuts from the match to a scene where an exhausted Tullio stares at Filippo's naked body as he showers. This choice is much more effective than if Visconti and his writers had simply decided to have Tullio take his rage out on Filippo with his foil.
Giancarlo Giannini plays Tullio, a role that was reportedly intended for Alain Delon, who had worked with Visconti in Rocco and The Leopard. Despite my great admiration for Delon, I'm glad he wasn't cast; while his rough sexual magnetism would have served the role well, I think his coolness and distance as an actor would have put the character too far out of reach. Giannini, on the other hand, doesn't smolder like Delon, but instead delivers palpable angst and decadence in keeping with the mood and atmosphere of the film. It's an effective performance, and in that sense Giannini is not alone; Laura Antonelli and Jennifer O'Neill each contribute solid support as the women in Tullio's life. Antonelli's role seems somewhat thankless at first, but as the film progresses Giuliana begins to emerge as her own woman, and her dismissal of her husband near the end of the film is scathing. O'Neill, as "the other woman," gives a performance that is surprisingly restrained given the nature of her character but also feels appropriate given the tenor of the rest of the cast.
L'Innocente is presented on a rather lackluster DVD from Koch Lorber. The image quality is variable throughout the film, and plenty of scratches as well. Sound on the disc is generally better and does not squander the film's lovely music. (Franco Mannino composed the score, but music from other composers is included as well) For extras, there is an interview with frequent Visconti collaborator Suso Cecchi d'Amico that runs over an hour, and a text-only description of Visconti's Ludwig, which is also on DVD from Koch Lorber. The interview is quite comprehensive; d'Amico worked with the director for years and has a lot to share about the films they made together, including Senso, Le Notti Bianche (my favorite of the Visconti films I've seen), The Leopard and more.
Despite my own lack of enthusiasm for the works of Luchino Visconti, L'Innocente is a well-made and fascinating film. Unfortunately, Koch Lorber's DVD presentation relegates my recommendation to a rental first.
The film itself is not guilty, but Koch Lorber is far from innocente
for its disappointing treatment of this work.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
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