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  Innocente, L' Better Dead Than Wed
Year: 1976
Director: Luchino Visconti
Stars: Giancarlo Giannini, Laura Antonelli, Jennifer O'Neill, Rina Morelli, Massimo Girotti, Didier Haudepin, Marie Dubois, Roberta Paladini, Claude Mann, Marc Porel, Philippe Hersent, Elvira Cortese, Siria Betti, Enzo Musumeci Greco, Alessandra Vazzoler
Genre: Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Tullio Hermil (Giancarlo Giannini) is an Italian aristocrat married to the beautiful but neglected Giuliana (Laura Antonelli) since he insists on going his own way on every matter, and that includes having affairs with other women as it is his belief that the world is there to please him, he is not here to please the world. His current mistress is Teresa Raffo (Jennifer O'Neill), who fancies keeping him all to herself, but Tullio is so obsessed with following his own lead that there is no guarantee she will get her wish. And when the ignored Giuliana decides she needs genuine love in her life, Tullio is not about to give that to her until she finds someone who is happy to accommodate her...

L'Innocente was director Luchino Visconti's final film, created after he had suffered a crippling stroke that saw him confined to a wheelchair, but there was nothing wrong with his mind and he enjoyed some of the best reviews of his career for this, not that he was around for very long to appreciate them for he died shortly after the work was completed. Could it be a sentimental reason that it was so acclaimed, or was this evidence of a master of his art cut down when he still had so much to give? He was sixty-nine, and it could be that he could have operated for another ten years had his illness not befallen him, but for his fans this simply rendered what we did have from him - exquisitely detailed period pieces - all the more precious.

For the uninitiated, on the other hand, Visconti could be a slog as he took it upon himself to take down the aristocracy one film at a time, which was interesting as he was very much part of that strata of society, having been born into great wealth and privilege, yet feeling like an outsider in that world thanks to his feelings of injustice and his homosexuality which set him apart from those around him. L'Innocente was full of that contempt for those who use their position in life to exploit those they meet in every section of their existence: make no mistake, whatever the intentions of the source material, a novel by Gabriele D'Annunzio, Tullio was a monster, one of the men who would happily become a fascist if they had been in Italy during the nineteen-thirties or forties.

We can tell this is where he was leaning thanks to witnessing the way he manipulates and subtly goads his family and friends into doing his bidding, and feeling bad when he takes back or denies any of his attention which flatters them. Of course, we can see what a scoundrel he is, but it takes others frustratingly long to twig, aside from Giuliana who decides enough is enough and welcomes a lover into her bed, the artist and writer Filippo d'Arborio (Marc Porel) who is a lot better behaved than her actual husband. When he finds out, he is furious, his rank hypocrisy playing on the audience's nerves despite the gradual pace of the drama which tended to build very slowly to its climaxes, not best given to delivering a huge amount of excitement, though there was certainly suspense. The issue of how Tullio reacts to being the cuckold grows more pressing.

This came to a head in the final half hour, when he is so horribly self-centred that he demands the spotlight be on him and not the child Giuliana bears him - except she has done no such thing, the infant is Filipppo's, and he is now out of the picture meaning Tullio would have to suffer the humiliation that he has visited on everyone else all his life, his wife having learned a thing or two about engineering emotions. Were we supposed to be rubbing our hands together with glee when he received his comeuppance? It's difficult to say, thanks to his behaviour in the latter stages trouncing his previous arrogance with outright evil, and Giannini's countenance appeared ever more cadaverous, as if this was some form of undead ghoul stalking these opulent locations, dressed in the most expensive finery. It's no secret that the cool kids and reprobates of Italian cinema alike tended to have a chip on their shoulder about the bourgeoisie, but rarely was there so venomous a portrayal of the privileged, even if its anger was well-mounted in deceptively polite surroundings. Not very enjoyable, then, but potent. Music by Franco Mannino.

[Cult Films' Blu-ray has a handsomely restored print and a couple of interview featurettes as extras. Oh, and English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack, of course.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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