Italian Film Director Pantheon:
Fellini Antonioni Rossellini
Moretti De Sica Pasolini
Luchino Visconti is one of Italy’s lesser recognized great directors. He holds a firm place in the pantheon of Italian film gods, but his name doesn’t shine as brightly. Maybe this is because he did not receive as much international acclaim as did Fellini and Antonioni, nor did he create as much scandal as Pasolini or Rossellini. It is also difficult to point at any one of his films and say that it is his greatest. This is simply because, unlike some of his peers, Visconti directed a steady stream of successful films until his death. His films are very personal and poetic, dealing with issues of moral decay within the family and class struggles in Italy. He approaches his subject matter in a very humane and realistic manner and although he was not revolutionary in any way, he remains a highly influential figure in Italian cinema.
Luciano Visconti was born a Count in Milan, Italy on November 2, 1906 into an aristocratic family. At the age of 30 he became close friends with Jean Renoir and worked with him in Paris as a costume designer and assistant director. It was during this period that Visconti encountered Marxist ideology and despite his family background, he became an ardent communist.
He returned to Italy in the early 1940’s. His first film, Ossessione was not appreciated by the fascist run cinema board because of its honest and bleak portrayal of everyday life. It was an unauthorized reworking of James M. Caines’ The Postman Always Knocks Twice.
Visconti’s second feature film, the epic La Terra Trema, which shows the life of poor fisherman in Sicily, stands with the other great films of the era as a landmark neo-realist film. Like other neo-realist films, it was shot on location using non professional actors. The story was mostly improvised and is probably more difficult to watch than the shorter masterpieces of De Sica and Rossellini.
Throughout his career, Visconti surprised his audiences and surpassed expectations. He successfully transferred Camus, The Stranger (1967), and Thomas Mann, Death in Venice (1971) to screen. No easy task. One of Visconti’s most successful films, The Leopard (1963) stars Burt Lancaster. The two worked together on Conversation Pieces (1975), but this collaboration was not as successful.
Rocco and His Brothers (1960), is one of Visconti’s most celebrated and internationally recognized films. Starring French hunk, Alain Delon, this movie follows the lives of four working class brothers trying to succeed in Milan. It is an emotional tale of greed, brotherly love, family and betrayal. On a side note, it demonstrates the Italian’s exceptional dubbing skills since one could never tell that Dilon didn’t speak a word of Italian to his co-stars.
I have added an essay on this movie here.