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Senso, 1954

The Countess Livia Serpiere (Alida Valli) finds her loyalties to her country--and her patriotic cousin, Roberto (Massimo Girotti)--tested when she falls for a handsome Austrian soldier, Franz (Farley Granger) during the Italian-Austrian war of unification. Lost in the passion of the affair, Livia's own life begins to unravel.

This is a wonderfully involving film, balancing the intimate sexual affair against the large-scale international conflict and even showing how one impacts the other. As the film goes on, the sense of scope grows greater and greater, until both the emotions of the affair and the war itself begin to feel genuinely epic.

Alida Valli is an absolute revelation here. It can be frustrating watching a film where a character has an affair that you know is a terrible idea. I sometimes even find it alienating watching people make bad decision after bad decision. But Valli shows us a woman who is utterly immersed in emotion and infatuation. The emotional logic of her love is overpowering, foolish though it may be.

I'm mostly familiar with Farley Granger from his work with Hitchcock, like Rope and Strangers on a Train. My main association with him is looking sweaty and anxious. So it was interesting to see him here as the confident, swaggering lover, and then as an angry, vicious jerk. While I didn't quite feel the allure of his character, Valli sells the infatuation so well that me thinking Franz isn't that much of a dreamboat is totally immaterial.

The look of the film is really stunning, utilizing soaring city walls and wide open fields that dwarf the characters, and yet somehow still don't feel big enough to contain all the drama. At once the scale of their surroundings makes the characters' melodrama seem small and large. When Livia runs down an empty street, screaming her lover's name against the towering stone walls, she feels at once insignificant and like the only important person in the whole city. The costuming is a perfect compliment to the look of the movie.

The only little nitpick for me was that there were times that the dubbing was a bit too jarring. For instance, very early on there's a scene where someone asks Franz something and while Granger clearly says "Yes," the dubbed voice says "Si." In certain moments, this mismatch took me out of the sweep of the film.

Really great stuff, and it just gets better as it goes. The last 15 minutes are outstanding.