It’s bizarre to think that in 2012 we are without a wonderfully restored version of every film from Luchino Visconti. One of the giants of Italian cinema, the director’s early to middle work oscillates between exploring the country’s lower class through Neo-Realism and criticizing the aristocracy with Romanticism. The best example of this is seen when we compare 1954’s Technicolor Senso to 1960’s monochrome masterpiece Rocco and his Brothers.
Visconti would stray from these styles later, with films like The Damned and Ludwig, but not before Sandra in 1965.Made two years after The Leopard, the director combines his solemn black & white and proclivity to critique Italy’s upper class.
So how did we get from the lush color palette of The Leopard to the dour Sandra? As mentioned before, Visconti employs his cold techniques, usually seen in films La Terra Trema and Bellissima, to the decrepit aristocracy in Sandra. As they’re driving tot he family’s palazzo, Sandra points out the Etruscan walls to her husband. The last remenants of exposed terracotta bricks and collapsed buildings serve as the perfect allegory for the rest of the film. As we watched the final twilight days of Italian ruling class with Don Fabirzio in The Leopard, we now experience the sad aftermath in Sandra.
One of the most disquieting effects in Sandra, asides it’s incestual narrative, is Visconti’s film style. There are countless seemingly obnoxious(and vividly apparent) zooms juxtaposed with the same elegance that we enjoyed in The Leopard. Judging by the use of transistor radios, popular songs(which are credited in the opening) and even a guerrilla POV of Andrew Dawson’s camera in the antiquated palazzo, Visconti’s critiquing the world around him. Even the opening of the film we find ourselves driving quickly down an Italian highway, which Visconti are we watching here? I also point to the use of a flashback to Sandra’s confrontation with her Mother, a technique that Visconti would employ later in his career, feels uncanny surrounded by aristocratic ruins.
While my friend who saw the film with me views Sandra as a misstep, I can’t disregard it…if that isn’t evident in this essay. In fact, despite my allusion to The Leopard, I see Sandra as the inverse of Rocco. Both films, with Visconti’s masterful eye, paint the picture by sucking us in. Notice how Visconti’s slight-of-hand consistently catches us off guard; a distant approach, only to sylvy move in with his close-ups.
Renzo Ricci, is my favorite character on screen. He emulates his role as the Italian lawyer with a sleazy sincerity – after spending a lifetime with a despondent and suicidal Gianni, we forgive whatever misgivings he committed to his father. Jean Sorel, remembered best for his work in Belle du Jour, plays Gianni, the corrupted Italian debutante. Sorel only finds enthusiasm when someone mentions his lack of it or when Sandra is present. Contrary to the NY Time’s review, Sorel isn’t boring. His fragile characters cracks with every appearance, until he only exist in pieces. Sorel also gives a hint of the theatrically reamed characters of Visconti’s later efforts-notice the emphasis on the actor’s eye make-up and abstract screen presence.
Who does Cardinale work the best with, Fellini, Leone, or Visconti? (Or Monicelli’s ‘Big Deal on Madonna Street) Why I couldn’t personally, there is a trait that runs through