An admitted steal from Electra, Luchino Visconti’s modernized story is set in a small Italian town where Sandra (Claudia Cardinale) brings her new husband, Andrew (Michael Craig), for a visit to the old family palazzo. Family’s disintegration, not to say degeneracy, emerges in rapid strokes, via an explicitly told tale of a far from chilled love affair between Sandra and her brother, Gianni (Jean Sorel), plus their mother’s near-insanity, their father’s mysterious death at Auschwitz, and the new and fairly sinister presence of their mother’s second husband, Gilardini (Renzo Ricci).
Ambiguity prevails in many of Visconti’s situation developments, and while this may irk some, it does confer an air of mystery and suspense on a feature which might otherwise be merely morbid. The brother-sister sex relationship is depicted graphically, though actual seduction is left slightly ambiguous.
Cardinale makes a striking Sandra/Electra, rising to impactful heights in her near-finale scenes with Sorel, whose limning of frere Gianni/Orestes, should win him plenty of international attention. Craig’s part as the husband is of more limited range, but he puts in an accomplished, sympathetic stint.
Visconti’s own musical selections consist mainly of a Cesar Frank potpourri, strangely effective in keying moods.