The Damned (Luchino Visconti, 1969) – Luchino Visconti directs this film about the downfall and decadence of an aristocratic German family (the original Italian title translates directly to “The Fall of the Gods”) during the first years of the Nazi Germany. We begin with shots of the steelwork factory that is said to be the source of their wealth and power, here and the ending shots being the only ones showing the industrialist background of the family. Most of the occurrences that happen throughout this first hour of the film are better left unsaid, the film is obviously attempting shock everywhere, and they mostly succeed, so I won’t go into much details – but what I can say is that these events show a glimpse of the nature of the main characters (Ingrid Thulin – always unbelievably scary in Bergman films, plays a character that fits her looks like a glove, the power hungry matron of the family; Dirk Bogarde – the result of Visconti casting English language actors into his films has often been boring, and this isn’t the exception; and Helmut Berger – a complete unknown for me at the time, but easily the one who steals the film. Playing one of the most disgusting corrupted characters in film history, whiny, annoying and flamboyant; he nails the evilness, yet the helplessness lying beneath this spoiled, sick young man. Not to mention he features one of the most awesome character introductions of all time – a grotesquely iconic drag performance of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel), actions that in the end will mark the subsequent “fall” of these Gods and Goddesses.
Some of the ideas Visconti is trying to pursue don’t seem to fully work: the infamous gay orgy, while it works as an historical reference to locate the moment in time in which the characters are in (just wiki “The Night of the Long Knives”), holds very little importance to the actual arc of the story or the characters, and seems to exist barely for the purpose of shock and shock alone. Also, I think that tagline is pretentious, and never does the film remotely suggest that he was bound to become “the second most powerful man in Germany”. The ambition was there, sure, and in retrospective it COULD make sense, but I still think it gives the wrong idea. However, and as I’ve previously mentioned, I find the main idea of showing the downfall of a powerful family to be truly exciting and interesting. And Visconti’s decision of showing every single disgusting little detail about the relationships of each character, not being afraid of certain subjects, contrasting them in beautiful, rich scenarios and thus making the melodramatic situations impossible to look away for me truly shows a gutsy, polished vision that while it may be hard to swallow, it’s very easy to admire fully. So if a little too self-conscious and hard to watch at times, nevertheless an accomplished, fascinating vision of decadence thanks to a ballsy direction and to at least one of the lead performances. Rating: B+