L’Innocente was the final film from director Luchino Visconti, who knew he didn’t have much time left. He had already suffered one stroke and was relying on a wheelchair to get around. Given that he was Italian, he never gave up smoking after his stroke and would die of a second stroke soon after completing L’Innocente. The film was released soon after his death.
L’Innocente is very much a typical Visconti film from after his Neo-Realist period, the era during which he made his name as a director. It’s about the Italian aristocracy at the turn of the century and how vile they were. Visconti himself came out of that world, but during the outbreak of WWII, he rejected his upbringing and also his fascist ideology and become a hardcore Marxist for the rest of his life. The conflict between his beliefs and his upbringing would play a key role in his films when he adopted a more classical style.
Tullio Hermil (Giancarlo Giannini) is chauvinist to the extreme, and even sports one of those overly-waxed hipster beards that those anti-feminist fuckers like Gavin McInnes have. He is a serial adulterer, but when his wife starts falling in love with the novelist Filippo d’Aborio, he seems to be interested in her again. Hermill then goes to extreme lengths to try to win her back.
Visconti originally wanted a much more star-studded cast, but Alain Delon’s agents wanted too much money so he had to settle for Giancarlo Giannini, who had just gotten an Oscar nomination and starred in the big Italian hit Swept Away. Delon would’ve been perfect, as he also would have been as the equally morally complex lead in Visconti’s adaptation of The Stranger—another role that was taken away from him. Giannini, however, does his all in the role by trying to get under the skin of this truly despicable character.
The film is a damning examination of the evils that aristocracy creates and the lack of morality that aristocrats have. It doesn’t quite reach Buñuelian levels of anger at these people, but by just letting their actions play out, their wickedness shines through. It’s obviously gorgeously shot by Pasqualino De Santis, who was behind the camera on all of Visconti’s later films, as well as Robert Bresson’s later films. Visconti was openly gay, and I read into Hermill’s brother being gay, as after finding out that Hermill considers marrying his mistress he states “that will get them off my back for a while.”
L’Innocente is a fitting swan song for one of the key Italian directors to come out of the Italian Neo-Realist movement. Like most of the best (Fellini and Pasolini for example), he created his own distinctive style. It might not be as impactful or showy as his earlier film The Leopard, but L’Innocente is worth seeking out. The disc contains a documentary on the film.