Death in Venice
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Running time: 130 minutes
Death in Venice (1971), is one of the later films directed by Italian director Luchino Visconti and stars Dirk Bogarde in possibly the best role of his career. Based on the novella of the same name by the German author Thomas Mann, it's a study of opulence, art, youth and, above all, unrequited desire. Visconti was relatively faithful to Mann's original story but switches the central character's profession from author to composer, principally to allow the magnificent role of Gustav Mahler's music shape the film (the film opens and closes with the Adagietto from his Fifth Symphony and includes sections from the Third Symphony). Gustav von Aschenbach (Bogarde) is the ageing, avant garde composer, who has travelled to Venice for a period of rest and relaxation. Although everything about Aschenbach seems sedate – his hair is grey, his health failing – he is soon overtaken with passion for the beautiful, adolescent Polish boy, Tadzio, who is staying with his family at the same hotel, the Grand Hôtel des Bains on the Lido. Tadzio (Björn Andrésen) is young, blonde and aloof and represents to Gustave the ideal of physical beauty, a David-like character, lovingly shot by Visconti against the soft light of the Venetian lagoon. Despite the beauty and grandeur of the setting, however, the city is in fact gripped by a cholera epidemic although the authorities have refused to tell the holidaymakers for fear they might leave. After making day trips to the city centre, however, it dawns on them that something is very wrong. Aschenbach himself decides to stay but doesn't know that he is, in fact, dying. Rejuvenated by the presence of Tadzio, he goes to the barbers to get his hair dyed and face whitened in a ridiculous attempt to regain his youth despite the fact that Tadzio only slowly, and unwillingly notices his rapt attention (the two don't even exchange a word). With its glorious period costumes and breathtaking cinematography the film hangs on a knife-edge – having been hailed by some as a masterpiece and others as a parody – but is without doubt one of the greatest films of Visconti's career.
Reservation is not necessary, but places are limited. Please arrive early to avoid disappointment.