April 22, 2019  (Web Review)

Death in Venice

Criterion, 131 min., not rated, DVD: 2 discs, $29.99; Blu-ray: $39.99

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Luchino Visconti’s melancholy adaptation of Thomas Mann’s novel stars Dirk Bogarde as Gustav von Aschenbach, a respected middle-aged composer (changed from an author in Mann’s novel) who takes a solitary trip to Venice and becomes infatuated with an angelic-looking blonde boy on vacation with his family. From the opening shot of Aschenbach’s private launch emerging from the mist, this pale, frail man is distant and isolated, even in the crowds of summer tourists at the lavish beach hotel on the Lido. Through flashbacks, viewers discover that this revered composer (inspired by Gustav Mahler) had a breakdown after the death of his daughter and the public rejection of his latest symphony. Aschenbach becomes infatuated with a young teenage boy—the very figure of classical beauty—obsessively stalking him and his family through Venice while a mysterious plague spreads throughout the city. Visconti’s languorous camerawork presents a society in stasis, operating on ritual alone within the magnificent halls and stately ballrooms of the social aristocracy. Bogarde’s performance is powerful in its restraint and suggestion of torment and isolation, but while he never acts upon his infatuation or even touches the boy, the lust for the child will be unsettling and disturbing for some viewers. Remastered from a beautiful new 4K digital restoration, extras include the 2008 documentary “Luchino Visconti: Life as in a Novel,” archival featurettes and interviews, a new interview with film scholar Stefano Albertini, and a booklet with an essay by film critic Dennis Lim. Recommended. (S. Axmaker)