Love is a Battlefield in Visconti’s Swan Song, L’innocente (1976) | Blu-ray Review
Premiering out of competition at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival just two months after he died from a stroke, Luchino Visconti’s final masterpiece, The Innocent remains one of the Italian auteur’s most neglected titles.
Starring Giancarlo Giannini, who was proliferating most of Lina Wertmuller’s titles of the period, in between a Cannes Best Actor win for Love and Anarchy and his Academy Award nomination for Seven Beauties, it would seem Visconti hadn’t exactly nabbed his first choice for any of the three leads in his last film, which is based on an 1892 novel by Gabrielle D’Annunzio, focusing on adultery, misogyny and the omnipresent gendered double standards in late-nineteenth century Italy.
Handsome aristocrat Tullio Hermil (Giannini) is a notorious cad, often dueling with men over his mistresses, despite his marriage to Giuliana (Laura Antonelli). Lately, he’s been associated with the beautiful and wealthy widow Teresa Raffo (Jennifer O’Neill), who often plays hard to get, to a degree which forces Tullio to dispatch his own wife to assist in making Teresa pine for him. But then Giuliana has a chance fling with a popular young author (Marc Porel), and the passion revitalizes her. Now an object of desire to another suitor, Tullio finds himself enamored with his wife once more. When the author dies, Giuliana discovers she is pregnant and Tullio insists she abort. Carrying the child to term, Tullio refuses to touch the child, claiming her love for the child proves she loves the child’s father rather than himself. Cruel tragedy strikes which forces an irreparable rift.
Giannini is quite intoxicating, though his aggressive anguish is partially due to the significant and oft extreme close-ups Pasqualino De Santis (Death in Venice, 1971) affords him. Visconti seems more preoccupied with Tullio, to the extent the narrative feels somewhat estranged from the two women he uses mercilessly, both finally freed from Tullio’s clutches by the time the credits roll.
As compelling as Giannini seems, it was Franco Mannino’s score which usurped most of the attention, and perhaps the muted empathy the narrative seems to afford both Giuliana and Teresa might be due to Visconti wanting both Romy Schneider, who starred in his epic Ludwig, and then Charlotte Rampling, a standout from his masterpiece The Damned, as leads.
Laura Antonelli gives a fine performance as Giuliana, but strangely The Innocent is not about showcasing the business of pleasure and one wonders who exactly got to receive any, and if so, was it at all worth it based on the trials and tribulations affecting all of them? While the parameters of The Innocent are far less epic than most of Visconti’s most noted productions, his final venture is as lavish and opulent as all that had come before, with pristine, detailed interiors reflecting the luxurious excess none of its characters seem to be able to capture in their personal lives.
Film Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆