Luchino Visconti Peter John Dyer - Essay

Peter John Dyer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

When great directors consciously set out to create masterpieces, it always seems to end badly. The result is lifeless and remote, and often a throw-back to some old abandoned manner…. It has now happened to Luchino Visconti in Notti Bianche…. (p. 249)

This conte, for it is little more, survives only as a basis for an uneasy attempt—in aesthetic rather than human terms—to fuse a new, enclosed, and formal mise en scène with an old, irrevocably lost nostalgia. Exquisite in gesture, marooned in time, Notti Bianche has had a great number of the most studied simplicities and elaborate fabrications of the pre-1925 avant-garde lavished upon it…. In its stylised, artificial settings, its consistently beautiful camera-work and effects of chiaroscuro; its arabesques of movement; its emotional bric-a-brac and abstract, idealised passions; above all in its disenchanted expression of the illusory nature of love—Notti Bianche is a ghost from the past….

After the themes of sexual fever, corruption, and fatality in Ossessione and Senso, this present exercise in "neo-romanticism" seems a natural enough development, if one bears in mind the hints of formalism and abstraction in Visconti's "neo-realism", as well as the pretty safe generalisation that the cinema's preoccupation with le destin and decay has never been more than one flight up from decadent cinema. Notti Bianche is decadent, and yet it could only have been made by a master. It moves slowly, but with complete exterior conviction. Visually it is an astonishing essay in black-and-white composition and architectural unity…. But within this assured, meticulous framework, the characters remain elusive symbols, part-real, part-dream, some eccentric, some capricious, their feelings intellectualised and their actions predestined. (p. 250)

Peter John Dyer, "Film Reviews: 'Notti bianche'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1958 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 27, No. 5, Summer, 1958, pp. 249-50.