The One about Luchino Visconti’s “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno”

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“Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” is a film that has always hit me in so many levels. As I appreciate its humorous take on high society, it’s almost dreamlike surreal situations that often take place, I enjoy how the film was cleverly written and his ability to allow his obsession of politics especially sexuality be displayed in his films.

And like so many other Luchino Visconti films that I adore, this film was also intriguing for me in the fact that it was a personal Visconti film.

If a filmmaker could predict his own demise, what kind of film would you make? I look towards Andrei Tarkovsky’s “The Sacrifice” as an example. As a fan of Luchino Visconti films, “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” was a film that I had looked differently at compared to any other films in Visconti’s oeuvre.

Mainly for the reason as the more you research Visconti’s work, you begin to research him not only as Visconti the filmmaker but also as an individual. As a man who is an aesthete, his films can depict an acerbic tone, some may be towards the society, politics or even sexuality and while “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” is no different, especially when compared to his film “Death in Venice”, but this film, it appears that he is also directing this scathing tone towards himself.

I have read that this legendary Italian filmmaker felt lonely. Never had a family. May it be depression or something that happened within his life that gave him that state of mind, the fact is that in this film, he has created a character based on himself and asks the question, if you have art. If you have music. If you have these expensive possessions that many people acquire with wealth, is it still enough to fill the void in life, if you don’t have love or family?

We often read about many classic Hollywood celebrities who lived the final days of their life as recluse and for the character of the Professor, he chose his passion over love and family. And when that opportunity came to have people in his home, he begins to realize how much it meant to him, despite having wealth and all the possessions that he desired.

Visconti’s “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” is a film that has a message that life is short and one should be able to live life to its fullest.

The film parallels the life of the Professor and Visconti not only in life but also in the manner of death. Not to say that Visconti could have predicted how his last years of his life would be on this planet but somehow he knew that his life would not last that long while making this film. Premonition, intuition? Who knows.

But in the film, the Professor felt a new synergy in his life when he starts to consider the new tenants almost like a part of his family, moreso for the Professor and Konrad. In real life, Visconti and Helmut Berger (who plays the character of Konrad) were a real life couple and in the film, the relationship between Konrad and Konrad Huebel) was like father-and-son. A father wanting to take care of someone. But when you look at the context of life and cinema, was there more to it? Was there an underlying message between the Professor and Konrad and the real life Visconti and Helmut Berger.

This is my take and my personal opinion but when I first watched this film and knowing a little about Visconti’s life, it was my feeling that Visconti knew he wouldn’t have a long life and discovered the love and passions in his life quite late. Would he have a much more fulfilling life if he pursued love and family earlier on.

In the film, we see how the character Lietta tells the Professor how she turns him on and if he asked her to marry him, she would. But he tells her that he doesn’t have much time and the characters then get into a discussion about his life and family. With the professor wanting to share that passion of art and music with someone but as much as he thought that the enjoyment of life was embodied in the art that he has collected, it’s been far too long since the Professor was able to care for someone.

The great artist Salvador Dali once ridiculed Visconti’s lifestyle by saying that “he was a communist who only liked luxury” and Visconti’s character of the Professor was similar but perhaps it was a wakeup call for Visconti that he needed to change his life, not place so much into luxury but towards love but his discovery of that was possibly a little too late.

Visconti may have felt that because of his older age and ill health (it is said that Visconti smoked up to 120 cigarettes a day), he didn’t have much time to live and so, thus “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” became known as the director’s last will & testament.

And for me, that is why I appreciate this film on a different level compared to Visconti’s other films. This is a man near death, putting his heart and soul to this film with a character about himself but yet, in Visconti-fashion, he is able to create this idiosyncratic film.

And while this film is enjoyable, one of its most controversial moments is when we realize who Konrad really is and when “Conversation Piece” was screened at the 1975 New York Film Festival, it was not well received. Possibly the most problematic part of this film that I have read over time is the casting of Helmut Berger to play Konrad. A plaything for a woman possibly in her ’50s and his involvement in a movement which I don’t want to spoil but yet it was hard for others to take in because Helmut Berg looked very young for his age. This has always been a sore point for certain viewers who felt his character looked “too good” and “too young” to play the part.

But for those who have watched a Visconti film, there has always been an underlying premise of silliness. Does everything have to be right? One should know from a Visconti film by now that things, especially with characters are imperfect. For me, I was never bothered by the casting of Berg and it was no surprise that he was in the film as well. This is a story by Visconti, about Visconti and as the Professor has discovered a new meaning to life with Konrad, Visconti in real life found love with Helmut Berger and both Visconti/Professor knew the one thing they did not have was time.

As for the DVD release, RaroVideo has continued to impress me release after release. Picture quality is good on DVD and considering this is a new digital restored film, I was quite impressed of how good this film looks compared to an older release in which the film did show its age. But “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” doesn’t look like a 1974 film because the quality of the video is pretty good. But with that being said, it’s also important to remind those wanting to purchase this film is that a Blu-ray version of this film will be released a month later. So, if you want the best picture and audio quality, you may want to wait for the Blu-ray release.

Overall, “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” is a Visconti idiosyncratic film that I have enjoyed over the years. Yes, “The Leopard”, “Death in Venice”, “Senso” and many other Visconti films can be considered as magnificent, but I have to put this film high on my list of favorite Visconti films because of its grandeur, its beauty, its humor, its absurdity, its acerbic tone and message.

“Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” may be known as Visconti’s last will & testament but it’s also a film that everyone can relate too. Life is short, enjoy it while you can.

“Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” (Conversation Piece) is highly recommended!


 

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Dennis A. Amith