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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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.
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.
Those were the days to hit the beach in style! I really liked this film, it is beautifully put together with a very elegant production. The latent concept of pedophilia ends up being a bit dissolved through the many scenes that try to capture Gustav in awe of Tadzio's ethereal beauty, rather than the physical desire per se. The voyeuristic approach and the secrecy about the plague help to keep it interesting.
I agree with the commenter below that I prefer this movie to the Mann novella, as well written as it is. The grey area of this story between an artistic person's appreciation of beauty and just being creepy makes me prefer not to know every thought going through Aschenbach's head. Also: why did they change Aschenbach's occupation from a writer to a composer? Doesn't matter much but seems pointless to change that.