MiniReview: "Death in Venice" (film)

What is it?

A film, directed by Luchino Visconti and adapted from the novella by Thomas Mann, released in 1971. 


What is it about?

See here.


Is it a faithful adaptation?

Up to a point. The great writer has morphed into a composer. There are scenes in which he and a friend argue about art, which aren’t in the novella. And flashbacks to his relationship with his wife, also not in the novella. And some little (or not so little) things: Tadzio seems more openly interested in Aschenbach here, whereas the novella leaves it to the reader to decide to what extent Aschenbach is imagining things. And the relationship between Tadzio and his friend on the beach, which is not described in any great detail in the novella, is pretty sensual here (not that I’m complaining—I could have watched them fighting, rolling around together, for ages).


So what did you think?

It’s a gorgeous film, visually speaking. The images of the Lido beach with the angelic Tadzio posing on it and, in the background, the stirring music of Mahler: what’s not to like? Seriously, it’s breathtakingly beautiful at times.


Ah, so Tadzio lived up to your imaginings?

Yeah. Luchino Visconti, the director, himself queer, knew a nice-looking boy when he saw one.


But you say the film is beautiful “at times”? What about the other times?

Well, there were things I didn’t like. I didn’t really get the flashbacks. I guess they were an attempt to incorporate some of the novella’s reflections on art into the film, but they didn’t add anything as far as I could see, and they even muddied things (the nature of Aschenbach’s sexuality, for one). The passionate arguments about art were a bore. And I found Dirk Bogarde’s performance quite hammy, even ridiculous at times. He already seems pretty kitsch at the start of the film, so his “descent” into slobbering obsession with Tadzio is less dramatic than in the book. He really isn’t my idea of Aschenbach at all, he’s a jittering, twitching wreck right from the start.


So, what rating would you give it (using the Michelin-guide 3-star system)?:

1 star (definitely worth watching, even re-watching, for the extraordinary loveliness of the cinematography and, yes, Tadzio)

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