Blast From the Past: Ossessione (1943) Luchino Visconti

This article appeared originally back in 2009. “Ossessione” is the finest version of James M Cain’s brilliant erotic tale or lust, murder and betrayal. It is also one of the first examples in the Italian neo-realist movement. The 1946 MGM version with Garfield and Turner while good is too tame and pristine, and the more sexually charged 1981 film with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange despite the sex just seemed to lack eroticism. Visconti’s bastard version is dark, gritty and sexually charged. Banned in the U.S. for years due to copyright infringement the film had its first  American showing at the 1976 New York Film Festival.

Here is the link.


4 comments on “Blast From the Past: Ossessione (1943) Luchino Visconti

  1. Sam Juliano says:

    John I well remember your superlative review for this film, and it inspired me to apply myself in the comment section. I certainly would stand by the original comment I made under your post:

    ndeed John, indeed, and wow you have really crafted a magisterial piece here! It’s a fatalistic work, but it’s also the first great Italian neorealist film. I once read somewhere that the Fascist censors gave Visconti difficulties with this film, as it showed both adultery and poverty – two subjects “banned” in fascist Italy. One can recognize the dominant influence on Visconti of Renoir and Marcel Carne, The director managed to transform everything he touched –actors, houses, objects, light, dust–into symbolic elements of his personal lyricism.

    I got hold here of an article published in 1948 with co-scenarist Angelo Pietrangeli describing the film, which he admits was to “change the face of the Italian cinema and establish its world-wide influence”:

    “A long traveling shot a la Renoir ends in front of a service station erected along the road like a frontier post. Suddenly, in a lyrical break so abrupt that it takes one’s breath away, a camera flight introduces us royally to a character, a chracter still without a face, his vest unbuttoned over his sunburned skin, exhausted and hesitant, as a man would be who is stretching his legs after a long sleep in a truck. Are we the Gino of OSSESSIONE? Let us call it simply Italian neorealism. Of course the style was taken to its ultimate realization by Italian master Vittorio De Sica with such landmark films like SHOESHINE, UMBERTO D and BICYCLE THIEVES.

    Well, John, you are really at the top of your game with this paragraph, describing Visconti’s skills:

    “Though this was Visconti’s first film, he proved himself a visual master quickly. Particularly impressive is the way Visconti handles the first meeting between Gino and Giovanna. Gino enters the diner, there is no one behind the counter, he walks to the back into the kitchen. There we hear a woman humming, she is sitting on a table, her legs daggling swinging back and forth, which is all of her, we can see. “Can I get something to eat here?” Gino says. At this point, Visconti has not shown us either of their faces. He now cuts to a close up of Giovanna whose head is down as she eats. She looks up at him, a bored look on her face, and as quickly, her head goes back down to her dish of food she lifts her head back up with a look of enchantment. Visconti quickly cuts to our first shot of Gino as the camera zooms in, from Giovanna’s POV, on a close up of his handsome face. There is an immediate fiery attraction between the two. With this shot, Visconti draws his doomed lovers in and the audience as well.”

    But I was equally fascinated with your historical tie-in and comparisons with the others versions, even citing clothes and the hair color. It’s obvious this film really made a powerful impression on you. I agree it is one of the greats.

    Certainly, it’s one of Visconti’s greatest films!


  2. Judy says:

    John, I’ve just watched this film after being attracted by your “blast from the past” posting – a great review and interesting comparisons with the Garfield/Turner film, which I also love and now want to re-watch. But, as you say, this version is much starker. I also kept finding myself reminded of ‘Macbeth’, especially when at one point Gino says “What’s done is done”. I must admit I’ve seen very few Italian films, but hope to see more of them.


  3. John Greco says:

    Interesting comparison to MACBETH, something I have not thought of. Glad you liked the film. I actually have been watching a few Italian films lately, DIVORCED, ITALIAN STYLE, SEDUCED AND ABANDONED and a new film called CORPO CELESTE.


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