When lauded Italian director Luchino Visconti first conceived of his big screen adaptation of Camillo Boito’s novella “Senso,” the “La Terra Trema” filmmaker aimed high: he wanted to cast no less than Ingrid Bergman and Marlon Brando in the film’s lead roles, a conspiring contessa and an Austrian deserter who woo amidst the dying embers of the Risorgimento. Both casting plans were waylaid by strange industry politics — Bergman’s then-husband Roberto Rossellini didn’t want the actress to work with other directors, while the film’s producers weren’t sold on the star power of Brando (who, in turn, wasn’t sold on the project without Bergman).
Still, “Senso” managed to make it to the big screen with some serious talent behind it: prolific Italian actress Alida Valli snagged the lead role, while Hollywood heavy hitter Farley Granger came on as her jilted lover. Behind the scenes, Visconti lined up eventual directors Franco Zeffirelli and Francesco Rosi as his own assistants. He’d need the help, because with just three films under his belt, Visconti was already looking to do something new, leaving behind his Neorealist past, working in color for the first time, and eventually facing off with a Ministry of Defense that was bent on cutting a key scene.
It worked out. The film, which follows Valli as disaffected countess Livia Serpieri as she embarks on an ill-fated love affair with Granger’s Austrian officer Franz Mahler during the Italian-Austrian war of unification, emerged as a lush and fantastic melodrama, and one that earned Visconti a Golden Lion nomination at the 15th Venice International Film Festival.
New York City’s Film Forum will open a restored “Senso” for two weeks on October 26, followed by screenings in other major U.S. markets. The restored “Senso” includes subtitles created by noted interpreter and translator Michael F. Moore. His most recent translations include “Agostino” by Alberto Moravia, “The Drowned and Saved” by Primo Levi, and “The Animal Gazer” by Edgardo Franzosini. Moore is currently working on a new translation of the 19th century classic “The Betrothed” by Alessandro Mazoni.
On November 4, Film Forum will unspool a special 35mm screening of the little-seen dubbed English-language version of the film, “The Wanton Countess,” complete with dialogue by Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles.
Check out IndieWire’s exclusive trailer for the restoration below.