Death in Venice turns fifty in 2021. The moment of the pandemic may be one reason to look back at this film about cholera in Italy. The release of the documentary The Most Beautiful Boy in the World (2021), about Bjorn Andrésen who starred as Tadzio, is another. But what is most enduring is Visconti’s engagement with the family, and above all with the mother. This calls for reflection in the present moment when maternal eroticism and its relation to maternal subjectivity are newly illuminated in feminist writing. Through extended analysis of Silvana Mangano’s presence in the film, her wardrobe, and her gestures, this article argues that Visconti opens a space for feelings of heartbreak, love for the mother, and grief at her desire. In its vision of madness in the family, beyond its images of cholera in Venice, this is a pandemic film unafraid to look into the vortex.
When Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder
Emma Wilson is Professor of French and a member of the Centre for Film and Screen Studies at the University of Cambridge. Her most recent books are Love, Mortality and the Moving Image (Palgrave Macmillan 2012) and The Reclining Nude: Agnès Varda, Catherine Breillat, and Nan Goldin (Liverpool University Press, 2019). She has a study of Céline Sciamma forthcoming in 2021.
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Emma Wilson; When Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder. Film Quarterly 1 June 2021; 74 (4): 36–42. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fq.2021.74.4.36
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