Late acclaimed Italian director Luchino Visconti always had a fascination with the class system, longing, infidelity and betrayal. The director explored these themes throughout his career in films such as Death In Venice and The Leopard. While a white male in a time period where women were often not given much agency, Visconti usually subverted the norm in some unexpected way to keep his films from being too narrow-minded. For his final film, L’Innocente, the director tackles an adaptation of the 1892 novel of the same name by Italian writer Gabriele D’Annunzio. Although the novel focused on the point of view of our male lead, Visconti chose to be a bit more fluid with his point of view. Visconti unfortunately did not live to see his final film premiere, but his parting work provides a lovely bookend to a wonderfully storied career.
In the late nineteenth-century, wealthy Roman aristocrat Tullio Hermil (Giancarlo Giannini, Quantum of Solace) looms large as an unapologetically chauvinistic man with a competitive streak. He is married to the more demure, spiritual Giuliana (Laura Antonelli), to whom he shows very little interest outside a passing friendliness. He finds nothing passionate in his relationship with his wife; he gets that satisfaction from his possessive mistress, Teresa (Jennifer O’Neill). Tullio flaunts his indiscretion in front of his wife, and barely hides it from the society at large, not that they would condemn a man for such an act. When Teresa expresses her unwillingness to share her lover with any woman, even his wife, Tullio agrees to leave Giuliana. This is almost a blessing for Giuliana, as she soon begins to make form a connection with famed writer Filippo d’Arborio (Marc Porel). When things get a bit bumpy for Tullio and he returns to his wife, he finds himself drawn to her like never before as another pursues her.
Visconti is a master at showcasing the vain and fragile male ego. Tullio is a reprehensible character, which can make viewing this tale a bit hard to stomach. In Visconti’s hand, though, the film remains propulsive and compelling as you see the depths that Tullio is willing to plunge to get what he believes he wants. When he makes his unprecedented advances on Giuliana, she frustratingly, but understandably, is open to the possibility. It is not as though she did not want a husband who was passionate about her and loves her; Tullio just did not give her that previously. As is the case when emotions and tensions are high and infidelity is involved, complications arise between all of the parties involved. The series of events that lead to the film’s ultimate conclusion are shocking and powerful. Your satisfaction with them may depend on your willingness to wade into the toxicity of the male ego.
Even outside of the narrative elements, Visconti has meticulously crafted an ornate visual palette that is dripping with opulence. There is not a frame that is shown that has not been fitted to set the tone of the film. Every element from the production design to the costume design to the cinematography is a feast for the eyes. The director also gets some fantastic performances out of his main couple. Giannini is convincingly slimy as Tullio, and Antonelli is heartbreakingly vulnerable as Giuliana. Jennifer O’Neill is sort of handicapped by not having her own voice on screen (see audio portion of the review), but turns in a suitably seductive performance as Teresa. L’Innocente is a difficult movie to recommend lightly, but if you derive pleasure from witnessing complex relationship dynamics and the downfall of toxic masculinity, it would be difficult to see this film disappointing.
L’Innocente comes to Blu-Ray with a new digital restoration via Film Movement Classics with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. For the most part, this is a pretty stellar looking release. This is a visually sumptuous film where every detail has been perfectly staged, and this new restoration showcases it beautifully. Production design and clothing presents with a lovely texture that enriches Visconti’s vision. The presentation has a great amount of clarity, with only the occasional minor speck of print damage. Colors hold up well with a vibrancy that is quite appealing. Skin tones are natural, and black levels are fairly deep with no overwhelming digital issues. Film Movement Classics has treated this film with the respect it deserves.
This Blu-Ray comes with a LPCM 2.0 mono track in the original Italian with optional English subtitles. Those unfamiliar with a certain period of Italian films might be thrown off by the fact that the audio was post looped, meaning the audio you hear was not spoken on the set. In fact, American actress Jennifer O’Neill was not even speaking Italian on set, and was dubbed over by another voice in the film. The resulting sync issues can be a bit jarring, as most line are not even close to the actor’s lips. This is not a problem with the presentation, though, as this is simply how the film was made. The audio itself is fine, if not slightly thin in a few places. The moving score from Franco Mannino is balanced quite nicely with the dialogue. It is not the liveliest presentation, but it suits the source material.
- Reframing L’Innocente: A thirteen-minute visual essay by Author Ivo Blum in which he takes the audience through elements of the production and costume design and reveals the motivation behind certain aesthetic choices. This is really fascinating as Visconti poured a lot of thought into each shot, and it would be easy to overlook such subtle touches.
- Trailer: The minute-long trailer is presented in high definition. You get a nice taste of the feel of the movie, but it does feel slightly misleading.
- Booklet: A sixteen-page booklet is included with an essay by author Dan Callahan. The essay does an excellent job putting the film into context while analyzing character motivations.
L’Innocente is the culmination of a lifetime of incredibly nuanced work from one of the most acclaimed directors in Italian cinema. The aristocratic drama wades into the murky waters of infidelity and desire, enshrouded in a gorgeously crafted production. Film Movement Classics has given us a knockout Blu-Ray with a wonderful audio and visual presentation, along with a few worthwhile supplements. Fans of classic Italian cinema should not hesitate to add this one to your collection. Recommended
L’Innocente is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Film Movement Classics has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.