THE INNOCENT Directed by Luchino Visconti Screenplay by Susi Cecchi D'Amico, Enrico Medioli and Luchino Visconti
WIFEMISTRESS Directed by Marco Vicario Screenplay by Rodolfo Sonego
Laura Antonelli's cold beauty is on viewevery single square centimeter of itin two opulent and languidly erotic Italian films just released in the U.S. Curiously enough, not only does each production star Antonelli, but each is a turn-of-the-century costume drama dealing ironically with the torment of a philandering husband cuckolded by a young wife whom he assumes to be hopelessly frigid. Naturally, given these similarities, it is the differences between the films that are most interesting.
The Innocent is a beautifully made melodrama, whose elaborate and operatic moral dilemmas turn on issues that are curiosities today. It is the last film of the late director Luchino Visconti (The Damned, Death in Venice). The Innocent is taken from an 1892 novel by the flamboyant poet and adventurer Gabriele D'Annunzio. Not surprisingly, it is the tortured sensibility of the hero, Tullio, a wealthy, thirtyish landowner, that gets most of the attention. Tullio, played with exactly the right touch of smoldering arrogance by Giancarlo Giannini, Lina Wertmuller's man of all movies, has long since transferred his sexual interest from his exquisite wife Giuliana to his mistress, a fiery countess named Teresa (Jennifer O'Neill). Tullio tells Giuliana that he loves her as he would a sister, but that his passion belongs to Teresa.
Giuliana's response is a period of gloom and fainting spells, followed by a livelier period of vigorous lovemaking with a handsome young novelist. Tullio dallies with his mistress, erring with her on fur in one fireside scene the lavishness of which approaches parody. But when the final break is at hand, he discovers that it is Giuliana who fascinates him. He lets Teresa rumble off to Paris by herself and forgives Giuliana, admitting that she has as much right as he to a lover. Since the novelist has by this time died of a tropical disease picked up on an African journey, the reconciliation of Tullio and Giuliana would seem complete.
Alas, she is pregnant by the dead writer. This Tullio's fatal male honor cannot stand, and when a son is born to Giuliana he exposes the baby to cold winter air and allows him to die. Then, after a moody conversation with his mistress, he shoots himself through the heart. Teresa, dressed appropriately in a black gownthough no one was dead when she put it onwalks unsympathetically past his body and away from the camera. She stops motionless in the middle distance, an elegant figure on a path framed by trees, as the credits roll by. It is a beautiful last shot, with a stillness that suggests an old postcard. Its accurate message is that the figures, their world and everything once considered important are withered and gone.