Luchino Visconti utilized striking cinematography and a precise narrative in his adaptation of Thomas Mann's DEATH IN VENICE. The filmmaker was known for
his deliberate, masterly work in films that delved deeply into a significant historical era or figure.
The story follows the sickly composer, Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde), who arrives in Venice by steamboat from Munich. He is deeply distracted, nervous, uncomfortable, and conflicted. Nonetheless, he settles into a breathtaking seaside resort, where he fixates on Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen), an angelic blond Polish boy who is there with his family. While flashbacks to happy times spent with his wife and small daughter fill in some of the blanks of Aschenbach's personal past, others recall his harsh and competitive friend, Alfred (Mark Burns), who criticized Aschenbach's
music for being too technically perfect and thus lacking in beauty and passion.
Via these glimpses into the past, we see that Aschenbach feels defeated in both his personal and his professional lives.
The film uses very little dialogue, relying largely on the characters' facial expressions to communicate the protagonist's tortured psyche, young Tadzio's curious vanity, and the pretentious airs of the bourgeois women who parade the Venetian beaches in taffeta, bonnets, and parasols. As Aschenbach's infatuation with Tadzio grows beyond his control, he learns that "Venice is gripped by pestilence" (as narrated in Mann's novel) and the city is being sequestered to prevent the spread of a cholera outbreak.
With slow and concentrated pacing, some hauntingly surreal scenes, and a color scheme consisting of bold blacks and stark whites that are a constant reminder of the inevitable, DEATH IN VENICE captures the poignancy of Mann's novel with a sharp, sinister, and unwavering accuracy.