Sunday, June 21, 2009

In Brief: L'INNOCENTE (1976)

One of my favorite Italian movies is Luchino Visconti's The Leopard from 1963. Visconti is part of what I suppose is the "A" team of Italian cinema, alongside Fellini, Antonioni, etc., with Mario Bava leading the "B" team of directors whose work is more often discussed here. But Italy ruled across the board from the 1950s through the 1970s, equaled only by the U.S. and Japan, to my knowledge, in its level of achievement in high and low cinema. The Italians have knockout cinematography and music in common across generic lines, and these are the primary qualities, along with some strong acting, of Visconti's last film.

This is adapted from an 1892 romantic novel by Gabriele D'Annunzio, and Visconti is consciously in a tradition of "quality" cinema, opening L'Innocente with the tried-and-true shot of hands turning the pages of a book, though the titles are superimposed on the scene rather than printed on the pages. It's a pretty simple story. Giancarlo Giannini plays Tullio, an aristocrat carrying on an affair with a brazen female played by Jennifer O'Neill. He's married to Laura Antonelli in the role of Giuliana, whose nude scenes make you question his judgment in cheating, but this was probably some arranged marriage that his heart wasn't in. Yet he's broadminded enough to treat the missus as a confidant, hiding nothing from her and admitting that the mistress is kind of a chore sometimes with her demanding ways. He regards Giuliana more like his sister than as a wife, until he gets suspicious that she's having an affair of her own. His suspicion translates into fresh infatuation. He makes love with her more passionately than he ever did before, and tells her he wants to think of her as his mistress. But when she proves to be pregnant, he can't shake the suspicion that another man is the father. Those suspicions have terrible consequences.

Don't mistake Laura Antonelli's veiled sentiments here for modesty. Check out the faux trailer below for proof to the contrary.

"The Innocent" reminds me of the late work of other major directors in that Visconti seems to have outlived his own time -- he died a year after this came out. It carries a 1976 date, but except for the nudity (full frontal, both male and female, though neither O'Neill or Giannini) it could just as easily have been made in 1956. It has an old-school look on top of being a period piece, but it looks pretty nice anyway. This is pretty much an interior drama so there's nothing of the outdoor spectacle that embellished The Leopard, but the interior design of the various mansions Visconti filmed in makes the movie look more lavish than it actually may have been. Cinematographer Pasqualino de Santis (who worked frequently with Visconti as well as with Robert Bresson, and went on to do Sheena [!])worked with old-school Technicolor, making the imagery richer still. Franco Mannino's score won the David di Donatello award, the Italian Oscar, which I assume had to be an awesome competition in those days -- though I learn that they didn't always give a music award. The music here is actually fairly minimalist, befitting the chamber tone of the whole film, but it does sound good and contributes effectively to the mood of the piece.

Jennifer O'Neill makes a grim discovery: Lucio Fulci is directing her next Italian film, Sette Note in Nero.

The story is probably a little too plain to really impress me, but I thought that Giannini and Antonelli carried the show with their acting, which no doubt required some effort to avoid being upstaged by the decor. I can recommend L'Innocente to anyone who appreciates movies for pictorial beauty above all, including the natural charms of the leading lady.

Don't despair, genre fans! L'Innocent is actually sort of a martial arts film, for a few scenes.

I couldn't find an original trailer for the film, so here's OdinEidolon89's effort to cross the Italian generic divide by creating a trailer that treats L'Innocente as a horror film. This clip happens to contain nudity, so treat it according to your own scruples.

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