Death in Venice (1971)

Original Title

Morte a Venezia




Luchino Visconti


Italy | France


Dirk Bogarde, Mark Burns, Marisa Berenson, Björn Andrésen, Silvana Mangano, Romolo Valli, Nora Ricci, Franco Fabrizi, Sergio Garfagnoli, Luigi Battaglia, Masha Predit, Marcello Bonini Olas, Nicoletta Elmi, Marco Tulli, Leslie French, Antonio Appicella, Ciro Cristofoletti, Dominique Darel, Eva Exén, Bruno Boschetti, Mirella Pamphili


While visiting Venice, Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) falls in love with a beautiful young boy, Tadzio (Björn Andrésen). The relationship is ruined by Aschenbach's obsession with the boy's youth and physical perfection. 


I've read Thomas Mann's novel "Death in Venice" about 10 times, and every time I love it more. Unfortunately I can't say the same about Visconti's film.

Death in Venice is as slow as a sloth, and fails at getting to the heart to the novel as ambiguity is the first thing to die in the film.

Visconti's choice to present us with a straightforward story of homosexual love is definitely not spot on, and he ends up missing the greatness of Thomas Mann's novel.
He turned the writer into a composer - believing Mann based the character on Gustav Mahler -, but that is not the big deal. The real problem is the way the relationship between Aschenbach and the young boy develops. In the novel, the man doesn't really know what Tadzio thinks of him, they never speak, the boy does smile at him, but so he does with many others, and he is unaware of the homosexual implication.
In the film, the boy pose in front of the man, and sweetly smiles at him - and it happens so many times, after a while feels like a deja vu.

However, there's some good about it. The cinematography by Pasqualino De Santis is superb, and Mahler's music, used as a background, helps creating a mood of melancholy. Also, Dirk Bogarde wonderfully plays Gustav von Aschenbach. 

Should you watch this? It depends. If you loved the novel as it is, you rather not, but if you didn't quite enjoy the novel, or didn't read it, I am sure you can enjoy this film.


Gustav von Aschenbach: You know sometimes I think that artists are rather like hunters aiming in the dark. They don't know what their target is, and they don't know if they've hit it. But you can't expect life to illuminate the target and steady your aim. The creation of beauty and purity is a spiritual act.
Alfred: Non Gustav, no. Beauty belongs to the senses. Only to the senses.

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