Death in Venice (Morte a Venezia)
Release Year: 1971
Director: Luchino Visconti
Writers: Luchino Visconti (screenplay), Nicola Badalucco (screenplay), Thomas Mann (based on his 1912 novella “Der Tod in Venedig”)
Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Björn Andrésen,
Rating: Nominated for 1 Oscar: Best Costume Design. Won 1 prize at the Cannes Film Festival: 25th Anniversary Prize. Nominated for the Palme d’Or.
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #331, week 45 2020
Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde), a fading composer, goes to Venice for his health and becomes obsessed with a young boy staying at his hotel.
The nobel-prize winning German author Thomas Mann’s work is sometimes difficult to wrap your head around. His 1912 novella Death in Venice is no exception. While the plot is deceptively simple the story is really about the nature of art and the artist. This aspect is toned heavily down in the film, with the exception of a few flashbacks and some conversations with a fellow artist called Alfried (Mark Burns). The focus here is clearly, and understandably, on Gustav’s encounter and obsession with the young Tadzio (Björn Andrésen). For some reason, the director decided to make Tadzio appear older and more of a “tease” than is the was the case in the book, almost playing along with Gustav’s obsession. But it all looks wonderful anf the film is beautifully shot and brings a decadent and lush turn-of-the-century Venice to life. The pace is slow and the film will certainly not appeal to those with short attention spans and as the story isn’t exactly heart-poundingly exciting, much depends on the acting. Bogarde (A Bridge Too Far, 1977) gives a refined and moving performance as an artist falling apart as a plague-infested Venice is struggling to keep up appearances around him. To be honest, the story of Death in Venice has never appealed to me, but this adaptation by Italian director Luchino Visconti (Rocco e i suoi fratelli, 1960) is quite good, though it will not appeal to everyone. Recommended.
In the book, Gustav von Aschenbach is a writer, not a composer. In fact, the story was based on a expecrience Thomas Mann himself had while staying in Venice with his wofe in 1911.
Gustav is inspired by Gustav Mahler, whose music was used for the score, and Dirk Bogarde was originally meant to resemble Mahler more, partly by wearing a fake nose. This did not work, and so he was given a moustchae and pince-nêz making him resemble Thomas Mann more.
Tadzio is Polish, but he was played by a Swedish actor, and so all of his dialogue was dubbed.