Saturday, 4 July 2015

SANDRA (Vaghe stelle dell'orsa…) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Electra Myth Sizzles as magnificent melodrama under Luchino Visconti's masterful rendering, screened on ALL-NEW 4K restoration at TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinematheque series "SUMMER IN ITALY", programmed by the inimitable James Quandt.

Sandra - Vaghe stelle dell'orsa… (1965)
Dir. Luchino Visconti
Starring: Claudia Cardinale, Jean Sorel,
Michael Craig, Fred Williams, Marie Bell, Renzo Ricci

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I can think of few juicier morsels of grand melodrama than Luchino Visconti's Sandra (Vaghe stelle dell'orsa…), a modern re-imagining of the Greek myth involving Electra, the Princess of Argos, who, in cahoots with brother Orestes, spins a mad plot to avenge the death of their father King Agamemnon at the hands of Queen Clytemnestra and their stepfather Aegisthus.

Visconti, however, never content to merely ape his inspirations, takes the aforementioned narrative base and careens wildly into the territory of an opera plunged into the deepest depths of genuinely perverse sexual obsession. (A layer of wartime collaboration, Auschwitz and a reclamation of Jewish Heritage is stirred in for good measure along with attempted rape and suicide for those so inclined.)

With the astoundingly baroque black and white cinematography of Armando Nannuzzi, Visconti spins a (seemingly) measured yarn which mounts ever-so broodingly to a shocking, over-the-top climax and a denouement which is as fraught with irony as it is deeply moving.

Beginning at a swank cocktail party in Paris and winding up amongst petty bourgeoisie squabbling within an ancient, crumbling, family estate in the provincial Italian enclave of Volterra, Sandra is a grandly entertaining belly flop into a pool of madness and incest. It makes the sordid spectacles of Giuseppe Verdi at his most floridly, bombastically romantic seem quaint and subtle.

Where Sandra deviates from the Elektra myth is in substituting the sexuality of Daddy worship (and competing with Mommy for Daddy's love) to a deep sexual spark between the sister (ravishing Claudia Cardinale as the title character) and brother Gianni (dreamy Jean Sorel) as a reaction to the siblings' joint belief that their long-dead Jewish scientist father was betrayed to the Nazis and Fascists by their Antisemitic concert pianist mother (Marie Bell) who has now gone completely insane and the mad matriarch's blusteringly petty lover and eventual second husband (Renzo Ricci).

Add to this mix Sandra's loving, but clueless American husband (Michael Craig) and the hunky town doctor (Fred Williams) who still carries a torch for her and we've got ourselves a heady brew, indeed.

Much of the action is centred within the family estate. Sandra and her hubby are visiting to convene at a special ceremony honouring her late father who died at Auschwitz. It's a nice enough tribute, but its reason for being is that the family fortunes are dwindling and the once massive grounds can no longer be cared for. They've been taken over by the town as a Memorial Park dedicated to Sandra's Dad.

There is much in the manner of slinking and skulking about the corridors, corners and shadows of the once grand old house, along with all manner of hushed whispers, most of them related to the unholy relations twixt Sandra and Orestes. The only time vocal timbres gush out full throttle are when we meet Mad Momma who screeches out her various hatreds and regrets with considerable bile and lung power.

The centrepiece of the entire picture is the voluptuous, pouty-lipped, big-ole-dark-eyed Claudia Cardinale, who manages to acquit herself as both a fine actress and ravishing camera-loves-her sexpot.

As is his wont, Visconti allows us to wallow in the majestic mire of the melodrama to our hearts' content, but for those seeking added noggin stimuli (the noggin that thinks, of course), Visconti handily invests the movie with moments of sheer visual poetry and much in the way of historical, social and class-related ruminations. Happily, one can take one's pick or go for the fully loaded big banana split of sex, sin, art and politics.

It's the Visconti way, God Bless Him.


Sandra is playing in Toronto at the TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX. For dates, times and tickets, visit their website HERE. For those who cannot make it to Toronto, a gorgeous import DVD from Italy is available through Amazon. One hopes it's merely a matter of time before the 4K restoration will be available for sell-through on Blu-Ray.

The Region 2 Italian Import of Sandra can be ordered directly via the links below (and as such, contribute to the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner).

In Canada order HERE

In USA order HERE

In UK order HERE