Composer Gustave Aschenbach travels to a Venetian seaside resort in search of repose, but finds no peace, for he soon develops a troubling attraction to an adolescent boy, Tadzio, who embodies an ideal of beauty that Aschenbach has long sought. A pestilence, arrives, threatening his ideals and life.
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A city of life and death at once, and if the truth/beauty/whatever of human existence is the coexistence of the two, then Visconti deserves credit for making a dirge so beauteous. He also deserves credit for real filmmaking, the kind where it's easy to watch even though "nothing is happening"—especially when "nothing" has a tinge of paranoia. Shy of a masterpiece, and it badly wants to be one. But I'll tip my hat.
Though perhaps a bit too ambiguous for it's own good, I disagree with a solely homosexual reading of this film. To my eyes, the boy was less a stand in for what the main character wanted and more for what he had lost, namely his youth and purety. Overall, I got more than a little bit of a VERTIGO vibe from this.
A rich, beautifully choreographed, mannerist study of eroticism, closer in some ways to Bataille (eroticism as the affirmation of intensity of life - even unto death) than to Mann's Plutonic ironizing of the Platonic
The Mahler sequences alone nearly bring this to 5 stars. I think Ebert was wrong when he said this film lacks ambiguity and that it portrays the relationship as purely homosexual. It ain't, Visconti's adaptation retains a subtlety, yearning, pain, passion and stillness. Beautiful.
I haven't been to Venice. It seemed a bit too risky. My brother and his wife went and they came back safe, but if you watch this movie and 'Comfort of Strangers' and 'Don't Look Now', you will see how deadly Venice really is. The most interesting aspect is how the description of the film varies from 'young man' and 'boy' or 'adolescent boy' depending on whether the reviewer considers it pedophilia or not.
The flashbacks come across as contrivances but there is something about Bogarde's performance that kept me glued to the screen in spite of the fact that making things so concrete kind of does a disservice to the brilliance of Mann's rendering of unrequited love, as it occurs soley in the mind of Ashenbach. Visconti gets kudos for even attempting to transkate even partially the tragedy of the story.