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Image Entertainment presents
Obsession (Ossessione) (1943)

"I'll never be able to be what I was before. Now I'm bound to her forever."
- Gino (Massimo Girotti)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: September 04, 2002

Stars: Clara Calamai, Massimo Girotti, Juan De Landa
Other Stars: Elio Marcuzzo, Dhia Cristiani
Director: Luchino Visconti

Manufacturer: Ritek Global Media
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:14m:03s
Release Date: July 16, 2002
UPC: 014381117325
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-D-C- D

DVD Review

The handsome drifter. The bored wife. The repulsive husband. They're a combustible trio in any language, and in this, his first film, director Luchino Visconti marries the classic stuff of film noir with neo-Realism, and the mixture is a potent one.

A screen adaptation in all but name of The Postman Always Rings Twice (neither the novel nor its author, James M. Cain, are mentioned anywhere), Ossessione is steeped in Hollywood filmmaking of the 1940s, and one can only imagine that Visconti was playing with fire, for at the time his country was at war with the United States. (This film was produced three years before the first Hollywood version of the novel, which so memorably starred Lana Turner and John Garfield.) Gino (Massimo Girotti), out of work and without a lira to his name, catches a ride on a livery truck, and pulls into the roadside station run by the fat and repellent Bragana (Juan de Landa). Signora Bragana is something else altogether, however: she is the smolderingly sexy Giovanna, played by the slinky Clara Calamai. Just what a young and luscious young woman is doing married to this vulgarian is never explained, but when Giovanna and Gino establish eye contact, they are each struck by the thunderbolt. Any self-respecting film noir fan can tell you that at this point the husband better start watching his back.

Gino senses danger, and not wanting to step in it, hightails it away from Giovanna; but like a moth to the flame, he is drawn back to her, and the Braganas re-establish contact with Gino when they find him wearing a sandwich board in the next town, to pick up a little meal money. He agrees to go back home with them, where passion gets the better of his discretion.

There's a decidedly leisurely, Mediterranean pace to the storytelling; perhaps it's because the plot follows the noir template so closely, but it may make you a little itchy that it takes the star-crossed lovers close to an hour to hatch the plot to have the old man meet with an unfortunate accident. Visconti is content—almost delighted, really—to have his characters occupy the same space in tense silence, if it's riding on a car, or on a train, or merely looking out at one of the magnificent vistas that the landscape has to offer. And you can similarly feel the relish with which he's taken the camera off of the soundstage and out into the street—the movie lacks the high gloss of American noir, and that documentary-like effect is just what Visconti wants.

But this isn't merely gritty realism, as there's something decidedly operatic here as well. Literally, in some instances: Bragana sings an aria from La Traviata in a local competition as his wife and her boyfriend scheme to get rid of him. And despite his commitment to neo-Realism, Visconti can't resist capitalizing on the inherent melodrama of the story—dollies in at crucial moments scored with brassy music make the point, though the fine acting really takes care of most of that.

After Gino and Giovanna have done the dirty deed, it's their guilt that cleaves their union—Bragana had a handsome life insurance policy, and there's an investigator nosing around, but perhaps the one story failing is that no one from either the insurance company or the police seems to be pursuing the circumstances of this suspicious death with much relish. Things might have moved along a bit more rapidly if the story had an analogue to the Edward G. Robinson character in Double Indemnity. Instead, it's the torment of Gino's conscience that breaks up the happy couple, and at times he sounds very much like Macbeth: "What's done is done." The latter part of the film isn't full of surprises, especially from our vantage point, but there's much pleasure to be had in watching Visconti play with and expand upon the conventions of the genre.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The picture quality is as execrable as the film is accomplished. Scratches and tears abound, and the ravages of time have eaten away at much of the print—the damage done by bacteria and decaying film quality are all too readily evident. Blacks are inconsistent, even some frames are missing, and lighting levels change within the same shot. A very poor transfer, and it's a great shame that more wasn't done to spruce up the film for DVD.

Image Transfer Grade: D-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: It doesn't sound as bad as it looks, but the mono track is limited and peppered with interference. There's lots of crackle, and sometimes the actors are so muffled they sound as if they're shouting out of tunnels. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to listen to an entire movie over a cell phone with dodgy reception, here's your big chance.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The chapter stops are the only extras on the disc, and unfortunately the English subtitles contain numerous typographical errors ("You must be knew at this") and bizarre instances of syntax ("You say that in so harshly").

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

A brilliant first film from Luchino Visconti, Ossessione is an unholy union of noir and neo-Realism, and fascinating viewing. Unfortunately, very poor video presentation mars the DVD debut of one of the best and most influential Italian movies.


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