“The light isn’t just light anymore”

For me, Visconti is the director who touches upon everything in contemporary life, from politics to social issues to psychology, literature and opera, to exquisite clothing, social lounges and tabloid gossip—by intermingling majestic visuals and compelling stories. Whether his movies are historical or contemporary, he had a unique way of introducing his characters—above all the ways they think and act—so that the audience not only feels that somehow we already know them, but also that their behavior might tell us something we want to know about ourselves. Visconti’s movies are political and human at the same time, indeed it is in the contradiction between what the characters want to be and what are in reality that the drama develops. And here it is interesting to consider how he worked with his DPs, because the hard task of underlining this human contradiction is entrusted to the lighting: the light isn’t just light anymore, but the quality of the characters. Moreover, what makes his actors so attractive is the intrinsic ambiguity that they always radiate.

“The eyes must say something that the mouth does not say”

Claudia Cardinale used to say that when they were on set of The Leopard, Visconti would tell her: “Remember, the eyes must say something that the mouth does not say, therefore the gaze must have a certain type of intensity that contrasts what you are saying […] With every part of your face and your body you have to tell a different and contrary story to the one that the other part of your face and your body are telling.” Visconti had very close relationships with all his collaborators, with whom he discussed books, paintings and operas. Though he was also an opera director, he didn’t look down his nose at pop music; in Conversation Piece, for example, he sets a ménage à trois to a cheesy Italian pop song, right after a sophisticated excerpt from Mozart; and this kind of juxtaposition continues to challenge generations of filmmakers.

Lucia Senesi is an Italian filmmaker living in Los Angeles. Her films include the feature-length documentary Avanti! and the narrative short A Short Story.

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