Vaghe Stelle Dell'Orsa, 1965 (a film by Luchini Visconti)
by SIMONE KUSSATZ
After a brief scene of a party given by SANDRA and her husband ANDREW with an international crowd of people, conversing in different languages and mingling in front of a grand-piano played by a classic pianist, the viewer witnesses a long scene of a fast ride in a convertible going through Geneva, the Alps in Northern Italy to Florence and Toscana to the small city of Volterra. During the scene of the ride the camera is positioned inside of the car, so that we don't see the occupants, but just their view, passing freeway signs, bridges, facades of buildings and everything that surrounds them.
Volterra is where Sandra grew up. There is the house of her childhood, the place where her mother betrayed her father and turned mentally ill, where her father was picked up by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz where he died, where Sandra's husband Andrew finds out about her and her brother Gianni's incestuous games, it is Gianni's final destination, where he commits suicide, and the place where Sandra wishes to pay homage to her father through a bust of her father placed in the garden. As much as the incidents in SANDRA are gloomy and mysterious, so is the aesthetic of the film. Shot in black and white many scenes play at night, or in dimly lit rooms. In one scene, for instance, Sandra walks alone through a completely dark garden at a windy night towards the bust of her father covered with a white piece of cloth. As she is embracing the bust, and the white piece of cloth is lifting up in the air, one thinks she is embracing a ghost. The fast ride in the car towards Volterra seems symbolic. It is a journey from the present into the past, a dive into the subconsciousness where the tragedy is imprinted in Sandra's mind. The reference to Sophocles' Electra is obvious, although slightly modified. There is Sandra, Electra and Gianni, Orestes and their dead father epitomizing Sophocles' Agamemnon who was killed by his wife's lover. Although Gianni becomes mad as Orestes does, in Visconti's film he doesn't kill his mother but himself. In Visconti's version of Electra, The Trojan War is World War II and the city of Delphi Volterra. The film does not go into detail about World War II and Auschwitz. Therefore it doesn't serve, as many war films do, as a tool to overcome a traumatic past, but to provide the film with more complexity and an interesting perspective.
The interaction between the characters is more visual than verbal. The characters' eyes and body language tell us more than their words. Although furnished with antiques, Sandra's home leaves a void. Large rooms that have stayed unused for a long time express feelings of loneliness. The monotone sound of a ticking clock, only once in a while interrupted by classical piano music such as a nocturne by Cesar Franck adds to the sadness that accompanies the characters' lives.