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The Novelle is undoubtedly a masterpiece of late Romantic Symbolism, but in my personal opinion the film stands on its own as a work of art. For me, the performance of Dirk Bogarde, Pasquale de Santis' stunning photography and the inspired choice of Mahler for the soundtrack unite to form a quite unforgettable tour de force, quite the most moving and awe-inspiring film about beauty ever created.
I would also add that Björn Andresen, who plays the androgenous youth so perfectly, was never a member of Abba, as a previous reviewer believes to be the case.
The film has haunted me since I first saw it over 30 years ago. Its scale is operatic, the widescreen photography stunning. Yes it's pace at times is a little sedate, but as I get older it reflects one's own maturity, sitting with dignity and watching consumate beauty. It is only at the end of the film that Bogarde's character (Ashenbach) lets down his guard in an attempt to impress the boy. The boy is somewhere between a child and a young man, he still has the playful qualities of a child but on the other hand he has the coyness of a youth who is aware of the effect he has on others. Bogarde's character is quiety amused by the child yet finds the antics of the youth somewhat intimidating.
The final scene is devastating because though the boy has had the most profound effect on Ashenbach to the boy it is little more than a fleeting and non consequential episode. Did Ashenbach die with an image of beauty as a final vision or did he realise the boy was just a shallow unobtainable goal?
However... the film - taken as a film, rather than Dirk Bogarde's coming-of-age - has many flaws. It is slow. This need not be a problem, but it's ponderous too, which is. The cinematography is excellent - except for several intensely irritating examples of over-use of the zoom lens, which make it look at times like Uncle Fred playing with his new camcorder.
Then there are many clumsily didactic scenes where Gustav and his friend discuss Art, with a very capital A. Show, don't tell, Luchino!
Let's not dwell too much on the forest of radio and TV aerials which appears behind von Aschenbach's head around 1 hour into the film or Tadzio's oh-so-carefully-blow-waved hair. These anachronisms aren't too disturbing in the context of the film when taken as a whole.
Just remember the excellence of Bogarde's performance and the decayed beauty of Venice under scirocco skies, and enjoy the film on that basis.
Techicals - visuals on this enhanced-for-widescreen DVD are fine. The colour is good, though muted, and free from intrusive defects. I wish I could say the same for the sound. Considering the importance of the soundtrack to the overall impact of the film - von Aschenbach is a composer, not a writer, in this version of the story - the state of the audio is an absolute disgrace. The dialogue is fine, but the music track is in mono (for a film made in 1971?) and suffers from a distinct speed variation throughout. It sounds like an off-centre record. The dreadful sound quality came close to ruining the final scene for this viewer. Universal, get your finger out and find the original soundtrack and remaster it properly. It's unacceptable in its present condition.