Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ritratto di borghesia in nero NO SUBTITLES 1977

Ritratto di borghesia in nero NO SUBTITLES
Ritratto di Borghesia in Nero (1977)
September 7, 1979
Screen: 'Vipers, 'Venice and Facism:Romance of Decadence
Published: September 7, 1979

"NEST of Vipers," which opens today at the Translux East Theater, is the English title of Tonino Cervi's "Ritratto di Borghesia in Nero," an Italian romantic melodrama that attempts (but fails) to take a dim view of the kind of upper-class decadence that helped (it says here) make possible the rise of Mussolini and Italian Fascism in the 1930's.

Like Bernardo Bertolucci and Luchino Visconti at their very worst. Mr. Cervi is too fascinated by the picturesque details of decadence to be very convincing as a moralist. He's more like a gossipmonger and "Nest of Vipers" is a solemn-faced joke, played by a lot of people who are better than their material. The setting is Venice, a city that should be protected from overwrought movie directors as well as from the sea.

The film, which is based on a story by Roger Peyrefitte, is about the worldly, beautiful Carla and the equally worldly, beautiful Renato, who behave less like the mother and teen-age son they are than like sister and brother. Renato calls her Carla and, though he's madly in love with her, he doesn't hesitate to act as Pandarus when someone strikes his mother's fancy. Carla and Renato are poor but well-born. They make do with the casual arrogance of true aristocrats.

At the beginning of "Nest of Vipers" we meet their newest victim, a handsome young music student from the provinces, a highly moral, strait-laced fellow named Mattio. For a while it's touch and go whether Mattio will be seduced by Carla or Renato, or maybe by both at the same time. Carla wins the race by a beautiful nose and then goes on to fall deeply in love with Mattio, much to Renato's fury. But then Mattio, in his turn, falls deeply in love with the beautiful, worldly but far younger and much richer Elena.

It's the sort of situation that bodes danger for all, and one that is finally resolved when one character picks up a bronze statuette and bashes another character over the head. I don't know about you but I've long since learned not to take seriously any movie in which someone hits someone else over the head with a bronze statuette, if only because of their rarity in the households I frequent.

Everyone in "Nest of Vipers" lives in a palazzo or a part of a palazzo and because it's Venice, it's impossible for anyone to go anywhere, even, I suppose, to buy toothpaste, without walking in front of a vista that screams, "Having wonderful time. Wish you were here."

In movies like this, of course, no one ever buys toothpaste. They're too busy falling in and out of love, being seduced and abandoned and eating well, to pay much attention to such ordinary functions as daily dental prophylaxis.

Mr. Cervi obviously means this story of ravaged innocence to have some relation to the political and social life of Italy in the early 30's. We see uniformed Fascists speaking from balconies in the distance and sometimes close up as bit players dropping names (Mussolini, Mussolini's mistress), but his system is too simple to be of much interest. When Mattio succumbs to the evil in this world, it doesn't seem inevitable but more like an accident of nature, something on the order of swamp fever.

The performers, though, are attractive and forthright, especially Senta Berger, who looks like Rita Hayworth in her prime, as the wicked but eventually victimized Carla, and Ornella Muti ("The Last Woman") as the sweet-faced rich girl who lures Mattio away from Carla. Christian Borromeo is very good as the once-innocent Mattio and Capucine, still rail-thin and elegant, is nice to see as Miss Muti's far-from-foolish mother.

Nobody at Paramount Pictures, which is distributing this film, seems to know the names of the actors who play Renato and Miss Muti's father. Both actors are fine enough to be acknowledged, and the roles too important to be dismissed in this fashion.

Romance of Decadence

NEST OF VIPERS (RITRATTO DI BORGHESIA IN NERO), directed by Tonino Cervi; screenplay (Italian with English subtitles) by Mr. Cervi, Cesare Frugoni and Goffredo Parise, based on the short story "The Piano Teacher" by Roger Peyrefitte; cinematographer. Armando Nannuzzi; edited by Nino Baragli; music by Vincenzo Tempera; a Mars Film Production; released by Paramount Pictures. At the Trans Lux East Theater, Third Avenue and 58th Street. Running time: 105 minutes. This film is rated R.
Carla Richter . . . . . Senta Berger
Elena Mazzarini . . . . . Ornella Muti
Mattio Morandi . . . . . Christian Borromeo
Amalia Mazzarini . . . . . Capucine
With: Giuliana Calandra, Stefano Patrizi, Giancarlo Sbragia, Paolo Bonacelli, Mattia Sbragia, Maria Monti, Eros Pagni, Antonia Cancellieri, Suzanne Creese Bates, Raffaele di Mario, Giancarlo Marinangeli, Giovanni Caenazzo.

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