Review for The Innocent
L’innocente (The Innocent) was Luchino Visconti’s final film. Indeed, it was so final that it had to be completed after his death during the final stages of post-production. The film’s opening features Visconti’s aged hands, gently turning the pages of a much-thumbed book dating back to a publication date in the 1800s. According to his script editor, no one knew the sequence was being shot and it proved to be a parting gesture as he dies days later.
So, for many, ‘The Innocent’ has an added poignancy. During its filming, Visconti was unable to move, confined with partial paralysis to a wheel-chair. This has led many to speculate that ‘The Innocent’, a visually perfect piece in many regards, was a deliberate choice for the director who used very little of his trade-mark, neo-realist camera movement throughout. This is more than compensated for with luscious and detailed sets, beautiful period costumes and some top-notch performances from its cast.
Whilst it may not reach the dizzying heights of The Leopard or Death in Venice, for a final film from an aged director, it remains impressive piece in its own right.
The film is essentially a thought-provoking period melodrama, not my favoured genre by a long way, set in the very early 1800’s and featuring Italian aristocracy.
Tullio (Giancarlo Giannini) and Giuliana (the very beautiful Laura Antonelli, perhaps best known for saucy, sex-comedies) are a married couple who are living almost separate lives. It seems that, for him, at least, the ‘spark’ has gone and he has set about having affairs with a string of mistresses. She has accepted this, hoping it is a phase that will pass, but during his latest affair, he has become infatuated with his lover (Jennifer O’Neill), an outgoing, flirtatious beauty who is determined to have him as her own.
Cruelly, treating Giuliana more like a confidant than his wife, he confesses all and selfishly leaves for his new lady friend.
In the meantime, distraught and depressed, Guilana meets a friend of Tullio’s brother, a famous novelist (Marc Porel) who is immediately struck by her beauty. She sets about building a new relationship and life becomes bearable again. That is until Tullio returns, a little put out that his new lady seems intent on playing him along with other men, not quite what he had hoped. His wife is now distant to him and he realises that she has fallen in love with the writer.
Unreasonably and insanely jealous, he sets about winning her back but it is now perhaps too late. When the writer dies from a tropical illness, contracted whilst abroad in Africa, Guilana is left carrying his child. For the sake of their marriage, Tullio says that he will love the child as his own. But that is not to be. Utterly destroyed by jealousy, he develops a sinister obsession with the child with consequences that play out like a Thomas Hardy tragedy.
Although the bulk of the action is supposedly shot in Rome, much of it was actually shot in villas in the Campagna, though 95% is interior set pieces.
This is potent stuff, set against the stifling formality of Italian aristocratic life in the early 1800s. Both leads, and indeed all else in the cast, turn in powerful performances that are not in the least lost when following with English subtitles. It’s ostensibly a film about life and death – and the meaning of life in particular; a subject perhaps close to Visconti’s heart durin his twilight years.
This new restoration looks incredible. I haven’t seen the film before but this is, without doubt, one of the finest standard HD transfers of a film I have ever seen – every frame good enough to be a picture. Despite its 1976 vintage, it could have been made yesterday.
The only notable extra feature is ‘The Innocent at work: a unique document’, a really excellent documentary featuring detailed conversations with Renata Franceschi & Giorgio Treves, who both worked closely with Luchino Visconti during the making of ‘The Innocent’ in particular, but throughout his career (in the case of Franceshci in particular). It’s the only extra feature but a highly informative one and well worth a visit.
The only remaining extras are trailers for other ‘Cult Films’ and a reversible cover which allows you to select which cover you prefer.
‘The Innocent’ is an incredibly rewarding watch and not just for Visconti fans. This edition is excellent and the transfer exquisite. Highly recommended.