Senso (1954)



Director:  Luchino Visconti (The Damned, Death in Venice).

Starring:  Alida Valli (La contessa Livia Serpieri),  Farley Granger (Il tenente Franz Mahler),  Heinz Moog (Il conte Serpieri),  Rina Morelli (Laura, la governante), Christian Marquand (Un ufficiale boemo),  Sergio Fantoni (Luca), Tino Bianchi (Il capitano Meucci), Ernst Nadherny (Il comandante della piazza di Verona), Tonio Selwart (Il colonello Kleist), Marcella Mariani (Clara, la prostituta),  Massimo Girotti (Il marchese Roberto Ussoni).

Venice, Italy 1866, obsessive love story set against Austrian military occupation and its overthrow 



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film

Spring of 1866.  At an opera there is a protest against the Austrian occupation of Venice.  A woman shouts:  "Foreigners out of Venice!"  A man now shouts:  "General La Marmora is on the march! Long live la Marmora!  Long live Italy!"  Then leaflets are dropped down from the balcony onto the audience.  Other Italians join in on the celebration of Italy. 

An Italian collaborator in box seats is outraged by the eruption.  He tells the old general to come over and take a look at the demonstration.  His pretty Italian wife, named Countess Livia Serpieri, however, enjoys the demonstration.  A man in the audience throws her a corsage of red, white and green flowers (the colors of the Italian flag).  An Austrian officer comments:   "This is the war Italians prefer: showers of confetti to a background of mandolins."  The Italian man who threw the corsage to the pretty woman is outraged by this statement and he says he is very willing to show the officer that the Italians are willing to fight. The officer accepts the challenge and starts to walk away.  As he moves out another Italian man shouts:  "Long live Italy!  Venice will belong to Italy!"  A struggle breaks out between the Austrians and the Italians. 

The countess starts to leave the box seats area when she is stopped by the outraged count.  Her husband, Count Serpieri, says this is not the time for her to leave.  She tells him that she always does whatever she wishes.  He confiscates her Italian corsage.

The woman says:  "It all began that evening."  The date was May 27.  She says her cousin, Roberto Ussoni, was one of the organizers of the demonstration.  In addition, he was a leader of the Venetian resistance to the Austrian occupation.  Roberto was the man who threw her the flower corsage.  She now worries that he has brought on too much attention to himself by challenging the officer.  She speaks with Roberto who says he and the officer will now fight a duel. She says he shouldn't have done this and, especially so, given his current "situation".  Livia tells him to leave the opera house and disappear for awhile until she can send word to him that everything is okay.  He leaves.   

The general looks at the leaflets.  An officer tells him that the text is of La Marmora's declaration.  He adds that such nonsense will just further agitate the Venetians.  He then turns to the count to tell him that they cannot allow La Fenice to become a hotbed of rebellion.  The count says this is only the work of some provocateur. 

A woman, probably the wife of the general,  tells the countess that there is going to be a duel.  Some idiot has challenged Franz Mahler.  She then says that the challenger is well known to the countess.  The count comes and says the man is only a distant relative who they rarely ever see.  Defiantly, the countess says she knows the challenger very well.  She goes on to say that there will be no duel because her cousin is just not really interested in politics.  She turns to the general and says she has heard this Mahler's name before. The general is not surprised because, as he says, Mahler is the talk of all the ladies of Venice.  The countess says the challenge was probably over some woman and not over politics.  She then asks the general if she can meet this Mahler.  The general warns her he is quite a fellow, but the countess is determined.  So he tells an aide to go get Mahler. 

The opera now goes on again after the end of the demonstration.  Mahler comes over to the general.  The countess asks him to sit down by her.  She tells him to forget about the duel as the challenge was given in a moment of impulsiveness or by "unforgivable thoughtlessness".  Mahler tells her not to fret about it because the whole incident will be resolved with a pair of handcuffs for his challenger.  This remark upsets the countess and she says she feels ill and she must go.  She grabs her husband and tells him they are leaving now. 

As Livia is leaving she is informed that Roberto was arrested as soon as he left the opera house.  They also arrested Dona and Meneghini.  The countess says she will handle this herself and the two fellows bearing the message should go to Massenza's place where she will send word to them. 

Livia tells her husband that he must do something to free Roberto.  Her husband, however, says that the Austrians were right to arrest Roberto.  In fact, he resents the countess for trying to get him involved with a dispute with which he has nothing to do.  "Such childish pranks!" 

Along with many others, Roberto receives a punishment of a year in exile.  Livia sees Roberto before he goes into exile.  Roberto tells her to get word of this to Aldeno and Cavalletto.  Roberto also says that Garibaldi is in Desenzano and he thinks the "moment's close at hand". 

The countess is afraid of bumping into Mahler because she figures he's the one that is the cause of all her problems.  Mahler sees her walk by him and he goes to greet her.  She is still mad at him for forcing her cousin to go into exile.  Mahler tells her that she is wrong thinking that this is all his fault.   She starts to walk away from him and he follows her to say that she should have just told him last night that this Roberto fellow was her lover and she wanted Mahler's help in getting him out of trouble.  She says he insults her.  She starts walking away and Mahler keeps following her. 

She tells him twice to stop following her.  She turns away once again but then runs into the body of a dead Austrian soldier, a sight she didn't want to see.  Mahler checks the man and finds that he is dead.  He hears an Austrian patrol coming their way and he decides to let them be the ones to find the body.  The sergeant says:  "Those damned Venetians kill someone every night."  The men carry the body away.  Now Livia thanks Mahler for what he did to shield her from this.  He tells her that it's not easy being a part of an army of occupation.  She says she understands and now leaves.  She stops to tell him that Roberto is not her lover, but her cousin.  She, like her cousin, is a true Italian!  Her husband is not, as he courts the favor of the Austrians. 

Now she and Mahler walk through the streets of Venice.  And she starts to fall in obsession with Mahler.  They walk over to where Mahler is billeted.  He tells her that war is going to break out soon.  And soon enough, the dawn comes for the next day.  They spent the whole night talking with each other.  She says she felt a little bit of shame over what happened with her and the lieutenant, for she has never had even the slightest of indiscretions.  And yet, four days later she runs to her Austrian officer.

She actually goes to where Mahler is billeted.  Officers are surprised to see her in their halls.  Livia finds Mahler's room with Mahler and his roommate inside.  He comes over to Livia and kisses her gloved hands.  He kisses her on the mouth and she willingly participates.  After that day, she saw Mahler quite a few more times.  They would to to a private room.  She calls him Franz.  She gives him a medallion to remember her by. 

One time she waits in vain for Mahler to appear in their private room.  Livia says she realized then that she was no longer in control of her own feelings.  So Livia goes over to the barracks again.  She asks for Mahler but he is not in.  She says she will wait for him.  She learns that Mahler was out all night long.  An officer says that maybe Mahler was with Kati or Nena.  He laughs.  Another officer says that Ludwig left Franz playing billiards an hour ago.  Still another officer says that Mahler is always on the move, which makes it hard to pin him down. 

When the countess goes home, she is informed that the count ordered everyone to start packing.  They are leaving the place.  She goes over to her husband to say that at least he could have told her they were moving.  The count says that the Prussians have occupied Austrian Holstein.  The war has begun.  She workv on her husband to delay the move at least.  Livia goes back over to the barracks.  She asks for Mahler of the Eighth Company.  A soldier tells her that the unit's barracks is now at Misericordia. 

She walks back home. Her aide tells her that a man she never saw before came looking for her.  He left a message that the countess should go to 349 Campo San Geremia and ring three times.  Livia now grabs an umbrella and runs outside.  As she leaves, she tells her aide that it's no longer important what the aide tells her husband.  The aide is even given permission tell the count everything.  The count comes downstairs and decides to follow Livia.  She reaches her destination and rings the bell three times.  Now she sees her husband behind her.  She tells him:  "Yes, I have a lover.  I love him.  I want to live with him, you understand?"  The door opens.  It's not Mahler she sees, but Roberto. 

Roberto tells her that they were able to cross the border last night.  Her husband says that Livia was trying to make him think she has some lover, just to cover her trip to see Roberto.  The count goes on to say that he is staying in Venice, rather than accept a post with the Austrians.  He also says that he is certain that Venice will become a part of Italy.  The French emperor guarantees it.   He goes on to say that Roberto can trust him and that he wants to help Roberto and his colleagues.

Roberto tells Livia that he has to leave Venice and he wants her to leave also.  He says he has just got to reach the Italian headquarters.  He mentions that Luca is already at Aldeno.  Roberto adds:  "Italy is at war.  It's our war!  It's our revolution!"  He gives her some money for the trip to Aldeno. 

Livia does leave Venice to go to their villa at Aldeno.  At night Livia sleeps when the dogs start barking.  Her aide says she saw someone up on the balcony.  Livia is informed of the presence of an intruder.  She sees Mahler on her balcony and tells her aide that it was her she saw on the balcony.  Livia now locks her door.  Franz tells her that he just had to see her again.  She tells him to hide.  Then she closes the door to her balcony.  He tells her that when he realized that he had fallen in love with a woman who could never love him, he decided it was useless for him to keep trying to see her.  When she ran away from him, all he could think of was seeing her again. 

She tells him to stay in her room and be quiet while she goes out to see what's going on.  Her husband yells for his staff to check for footprints and other tracks.  She tells her servants to go to bed.  Her husband says he is going to bed.  Livia goes back to her room.  Franz asks her to forgive him for this great disturbance he has caused.  She reproaches him saying:  "You made me forget every shred of decency and dignity."  And all this for a "wretched and illicit love".  She keeps repeating:  "We're not in Venice anymore." 

Livia says the dogs have quieted down and now he must leave.  But Franz keeps up with the sweet talk and they kiss.  Now she begs him to stay with her.  They continue to kiss.

It's almost daybreak and Livia reminds Franz that he said he has to be in Verona before nightfall.  After a little more talk, Mahler says he will go now.  But now Livia asks him not to go just yet.  She says she will keep him with her for one more day.  She takes him to the granary.  Livia tells her lover that she must get back to her room before her maid comes.  Franz says he would love to stay here forever.  He then has an idea.  One of his comrades bribed a doctor to declare him unfit for service.  The comrade went home "a free man".  Livia says that war is horrible and then leaves saying she will back as soon as possible.

The Austrian army marches by the villa at Aldeno.  They came from Innsbruck, Austria headed for Verona, Italy.  The count thinks he has spotted a fire at Le Ronghe!  Someone says the fire is at the stables at Piovene.  They run down to the granary and check around.  They do not find Franz.  Livia's aide tells her that the strange man is here.  And Luca is here from Romagnano.  Luca comes in to say that the Marquis Roberto Ussoni reached the Italian headquarters on the Mincio.  Garibaldi is at Salo.  Luca says by the time Garibaldi reaches their lands, the locals will have already freed the land.  He goes on to say that Roberto sent word that the countess should give Luca the money collected in Venice of more than 3,000 florins. 

Meanwhile, Franz has been at a dining table having tea and snacks.  Her husband leaves to see the fire up close.  She asks Franz if he couldn't get out of the army just like his comrade did?  Franz brings up the cost of the bribe.  He says it will be 2,000 florins.  She is upset at how high the price is.  Franz says he has to go now or they will consider him a deserter.  She tells him to wait.  He follows her.  She gets the collection box.  Franz is thrilled to see all this money.  The aide comes in to tell the countess that her husband is returning.  She gives Mahler his clothes and Mahler runs for the door with the collection box.  The aide also says that Luca is here. Livia runs to be with Franz.  The aide finds some of the collection money on the floor and picks it up.  Franz promises Livia that he will write her and leaves.  She tells him that as soon as he has everything arranged, she will join him. 

After Franz leaves, Livia says:  "For his sake I'd forsaken and betrayed everything for which the others were so desperately fighting . . ." 

Roberto is at the Italian headquarters.  An officer advises him that for him to reach Oliosi, he should avoid the left flank of their front.   The journey is not going to be an easy one.  Roberto gives a carriage drive some extra money to take him to Oliosi.  Along the way Roberto has the driver stop so he can ask which is he best route to Oliosi?  A soldier says there's fighting on the roads going to Oliosi.  The soldier suggests a different route, which Roberto will now certainly take.   

On the route to Oliosi, they pass a lot of wounded men being taken to the field hospital.  And there is a lot of shooting in the area.  A trumpeter sounds his trumpet and the soldiers starts proceeding through a hay field with lots of hay stacks on it.  Enemy soldiers on horseback now come down a slope to get at the Italian soldiers. 

Livia receives a letter from Franz saying that he is now in Verona, but it is too dangerous for her to try and join him right now.  The talk is of driving the Germans out of Italy for good.  Luca arrives.  He has good news:  "The Germans have fled Verona!"  Luca tells Livia that the Austrians are leaving Verona.  Livia only wants to know if the fighting will cut them off from Verona and other areas?  She also says they should stay here in Aldeno and wait for orders.  Luca says the Italian troops must move out in order to occupy the Verona area.  Garibaldi himself is coming! 

Roberto runs into a long column of soldiers in wagons.  They tell Roberto that they have been ordered to retreat.  Roberto starts running in the direction of the end of the caravan.  The Austrians are headed down a slope toward the Italians. Roberto grabs a rifle and rushes to fight the Austrians. He is wounded in the right arm. 

Livia decides to leave before the patriots could occupy the countryside around Aldeno and the Italian troops could reach Verona..  She knew she was leaving her country behind, but she felt neither remorse nor regret.  She reaches Verona at night after a long journey.  She reaches the address she has for Franz.  She rushes into his room.  He does not look too pleased to see her.  And he carefully closes the doors to his bedroom.  He scolds her for coming when he told her in his letter specifically not to come. 

Franz tells her that he is living the good life now, thanks to her money.  He tells her it was wrong of her to come, and she will soon regret it.  He adds that now he is just a drunken deserter.  And, he says, he stinks of cowardice and vice.  Livia asks him to embrace her, but he won't.  And now, his new lover calls for him.  Franz wants the two women to meet.  Clara comes out of the bedroom and he takes her over to meet Livia. He refers to Livia as his wealthy patroness.  He praises her, while mocking her at the same time.  Clara says that she is going home.  Franz tells Livia to invite Clara to dine with them.  She does so.  Clara sits at the table and says to Livia:  "Pay no attention  He's drunk."  Livia now sits down at the table, followed by Franz.

Franz continues to belittle Livia.  He doesn't like the way Livia is looking at him and tells her to stop it.  He adds:  "The idea you have of me is pure fantasy invented by you.  It has nothing to do with the real me."  He says he has two sources of money:  the money he gets from women and the money he gets by cheating at cards. Furthermore, he is a deserter because he is a coward.  Who cares, he asks, if his military unit won a battle at Custoza? He says Austria will be finished in a few years.  He says what's important is that he enjoy life as much as he can.  Franz also claims that Livia has the same philosophy.  "Otherwise you wouldn't have given me money to buy yourself an hour of love."  Livia starts sobbing, which makes Franz go a little crazy screaming:  "It's too late!  It's over! . . . I needed money and I took it  -- that's all."  Furthermore, he says he is an informer who denounced her cousin to the police.  Livia comes out with a loud scream of "No!", grabs her hat and leaves the apartment.   

She runs around in town and is accosted by some drunken soldiers.  She goes into a room filled with Austrian officers who pay her little attention.  They are discussing the report that Santa Lucia has fallen to the Austrians.  Then Custoza was taken by 7 p.m.  A little later she goes into see a general and hands him the note that Franz Mahler sent her, telling about his desertion from the Austrian army and the address of where he is currently living.  She says the letter is from Franz Mahler of the Third Artillery Regiment.  The general scolds her:  "Ah , now I understand.  The lieutenant was your lover, and now, for revenge, you'd like to see him shot."  He tells her that she should think about what she is doing very carefully because this charge amounts to murder.  Livia starts to leave, but before she gets out into the next room, she reminds the general that he has to do his duty. 

The order is given to arrest Franz Mahler.  Livia hears the order shouted out by the head of a patrol.  She continues walking through the streets of Verona.  She still gets accosted on the streets by more drunken soldiers.  She starts screaming for:  "Franz!" 

Franz is put up against a wall where he will be shot by a firing squad.  He is blindfolded, turned to face the wall and is shot down. 



Venice, Italy 1866, Austrian military occupation.  Countess Livia Serpieri (Alida Valli) does something for which, after a war,  women collaborators are brutalized by their countrymen.  She falls in love with one of the enemy: Austrian lieutenant Franz Mahler (Farley Granger). Not only does she cross the line, she actually steals funds to be used for the resistance to give them to her beloved in order for him to bribe his way out of the military. (Does she have a death wish?)  She has betrayed her country and now she is betrayed by the Austrian lieutenant, who reveals himself as a drunken, ungrateful rogue who has used her solely for her money.  For the Countess, the war outside is now within her soul.  What will be her response to the lieutenant's betrayal? 

This is more of a psychiatric problem than about politics or culture.  The countess falls in obsession with Lt. Mahler.  She imagines him a noble character, when he is just the opposite.  And yet she still keeps coming back for seemingly more punishment.  That's the case with psychiatric disorders.  One continues to repeat the same behavior even after multiple proofs that the behavior only results in failure and unhappiness.  These types of people are often used and abusee by people with little sense of shame.  And that's what happens.  The ending is interesting with a bit of a twist. 

Most of the history is implied in the film, but not explained.  So it's best to review the historical background below. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:


1797  --  Napoleon defeated the Venetian Republic and it became part of the Hapsburg Empire (Austria). It remained under Austrian rule until 1866. 

1815 with the Congress of Vienna and the end of Napoleonic rule, the Italian unification process begins.

1848  --  Venetians attempt to free their land from the Hapsburg. Garibaldi returns to Italy from fighting in South America.  He and his followers fought to help Milan, which was rebelling against the Austrian occupation.  In the First War of Italian Independence, Garibaldi led his troops to two minor victories at Luino and Morazzone. 

1849 (March 23) Piedmontese defeat at Novara. Now Garibaldi put in command of the defense of Rome.

1849 (April 30) the Republican army, under Garibaldi's command, defeats a numerically far superior French army.

1849 (June 1- June 29)  --  the French prevail at the siege of Rome.  

1849 (July 2)  --  Garibaldi and 4,000 troops leave Rome.  Garibaldi attempts to reach Venice where the resistance against the Austrians continues.  He doesn't make it.  In exile again. 

1854  --  Garibaldi returns to Italy. 

1859 the Second Italian War of Independence (also known as the Austro-Sardinian War) breaks out. Garibaldi wins victories over the Austrians at Varese, Como, and other places.

1860  --  Garibaldi declares himself as dictator of Sicily. 

1860 (Sept. 7)  --  Garibaldi and his forces enter the city of Naples.  Garibaldi gives all his territorial gains in the south to the Piedmontese and withdraws to Caprera and temporary retirement.

1860   --  the army of Giuseppe Garibaldi makes it possible for Italy to become a nation under the reign of the Savoia dynasty.

1864 (September 28) 1866 (June 20) rule of Alfonso Ferrero, Cavaliere La Mrmora (1804 1878) as prime minister of Italy.

1866  --  Austria is defeated by Prussia in the Seven Weeks' War (aka, the Austro-Prussian War). Italy sided with the Prussians.  In Italy, the unification process is called the Third Independence War.   Garibaldi wins the only Italian victory of the war over the Austrians at Bezzecca.  The Italian regular forces suffer defeat at Lissa on the sea and meet disaster on the land at Custoza.. An armistice is signed, by which Austria cedes Venice to Italy.

1871 with the Franco-Prussian War, Italy becomes unified, thereby ending the unification process begun in 1815.



Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)