I saw this movie one late night in an Oxford cinema back in the early 80s. The film. itself, was released in 1971 but I saw it when I was a student, having first read the novel by Thomas Mann. I was always keen to see a performance by Dirk Bogarde and I was fascinated by the fact that he turned his back on a career in popular films, he chose an art house route, one that involved him in great work like this picture.
It was directed by Visconti so the visuals are amazing. The subject matter of the novella translates well to film since dialogue is at a minimum and the interior monologue becomes slow moments of focus on expressions. Bogarde’s face is the most important ‘tool’ in the film. The central conceit is that the main character, a composer in Venice to recuperate, observes a pretty boy with his family of older sisters and mother and becomes fixated with him since he is a thing of beauty.
The difficulty of translating this to film is that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder and the final version has to reflect one person’s vision. Yet Bjorn Andreson, chosen for his looks, does a good job of looking like a pretty young man might in the early years of the twentieth century. What is convincing about the film is the notion that an artist can be transfixed by beauty.
The ending is tragic but as the whole film has a melancholic feel, somewhat at odds with the theme of artistic beauty. ‘Death in Venice’, directed by Luchino Visconti is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?