In his final film, Visconti offers one of his most cutting variations on the theme that most consumed him: the moral decay of the soul-sick aristocracy. Based on a novel by the proto-fascist sensualist Gabriele d’Annunzio, this poison-pill melodrama concerns a callously self-absorbed nobleman (Giancarlo Giannini) whose “liberal” views on marriage extend only as far as his own extramarital affairs. When his tormented wife (Laura Antonelli) pursues a dalliance with a writer, the full monstrousness of his chauvinism is unleashed. Working with a late-career rigorousness, Visconti returns one last time to the luxuriant, red velvet world of the 19th century, stripping away operatic excess in favor of a supremely controlled emotional intensity. 35mm print from Istituto Luce Cinecittà.
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