Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsule #72 Death in Venice  ★★★
The film follows Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde), a composer whom we learn in intermittent flashbacks developed a heart condition after suffering the death of his cherished daughter and the failure of his latest symphony. He arrives in Venice under doctor’s orders to get some bed rest, and for the first act of the film we watch and consider the world around him exactly as he does. He—and by extension Visconti’s camera—regards things with a detached aloofness, gliding through dining rooms, canals, and beaches like an unseen, incorporeal phantom. But his life snaps into focus when he spies a Polish teenager named Tadzio (Björn Andrésen) vacationing with his family in the same hotel. For the first time in years, perhaps even decades, he recognizes an embodiment of everything in life that is lovely and wonderful, and he finds himself desiring—truly desiring—once again.
Modern commentators have dismissed Aschenbach’s affections, and by extension Visconti’s film and Mann’s novel, as pedophilic idealization. But this feels like an ignoring of the text of the film which considers Tadzio less as a sexual being to be corrupted—despite his beautiful physique he frolics and plays with his fellows like a pre-sexual innocent—than as an aesthetic ideal to be cherished. Death in Venice can at times be tedious and slow, but it’s always intimately considered, delicately composed, stirringly acted, and resplendent with an otherworldly beauty.