By Phil Hall | February 23, 2011

One of Luchino Visconti’s second-tier efforts, the 1954 “Senso” takes place in Venice of 1866, when the Austrian military occupation was being challenged by Garibaldi’s uprising, The emotional core of the film is the destructive love affair between an Italian countess with ties to the nationalist rebellion and a younger Austrian lieutenant with no particular political passion.

Yet Visconti never seemed particularly focused on capturing the full emotional power of this doomed union. Instead, the great filmmaker placed his emphasis on style over substance. As a result, the film is a riot of visual opulence, with the splendor of 19th century Venice captured in brilliant production design presented in the three-strip Technicolor process. (This DVD/Blu-ray release provides a crisp new digital restoration.) For any student of cinematography, costume design or art direction, “Sense” is an invaluable source of inspiration.

However, the glory of the film’s visual appeal cannot fully compensate for its dramatic deficiencies. To play the Austrian soldier, Visconti illogically miscast Farley Granger with the hope that his presence would guarantee a commercial U.S. theatrical release – which, ironically, never happened. Granger’s bland, dreary presence makes the full-throttle performance by Alida Valli as the countess seem thoroughly peculiar – it makes little sense why she would drive herself mad and ruin her life for such a dull man.

This DVD/Blu-ray release includes the severely edited English-language version, “The Wanton Countess,” with Granger and Valli speaking purple dialogue composed by Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles; three short documentaries on Visconti’s career are also included in the offering.

“Senso” can be recommended for Visconti fans, but it is strictly an optional purchase for those unfamiliar with the filmmaker’s canon.

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