Follow TV Tropes


Film / Senso

Go To

Senso is a 1954 film from Italy directed by Luchino Visconti, based on a short novella by Camillo Boito, with a soundtrack by Nino Rota.

It starts on May 27, 1866, in Venice, at a performance of Il trovatore. Venice, which has been under Austrian occupation for a half-century, is restive. The Prussians have made agreement with the Venetians to attack Austria, which, among other things, will free Venice to be part of Italy again. War is imminent.

The opera is interrupted by a frenzied demonstration by Italian nationalists. An Italian marquis named Roberto insults Franz Mahler, an Austrian officer in the audience. Roberto's cousin Livia (Alida Valli, The Third Man) tries to intercede, but Roberto gets exiled anyway. Livia is an Italian patriot but she is also stuck in an unhappy marriage with an older boring businessman, Count Serpieri. Soon, despite herself, she is swept into a passionate affair with handsome Franz.

Franz was played by Farley Granger, an American actor better known to Anglophone audiences from the Hitchcock thrillers Rope and Strangers on a Train.


  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: Livia does not attend Franz’s execution or gloat over his death. Instead, driven mad by her actions, she runs off into the night, hysterically crying out his name.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The film covers a great deal of the Italian War for Independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the politics of the time, all of which was barely hinted at in Camillo Boito's original story.
  • Adapted Out: Since the film deletes the framing device of the original short story, the character of Livia’s new lover went with it.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Livia is much more neurotic and emotional than her literary counterpart, while Franz is filled with self-loathing and wracked with guilt for deserting the army.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Livia is portrayed in a much more sympathetic and tragic way than she was in the original novella the film is based on.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Remigio Ruz becomes “Franz Mahler,” as a Shout-Out to Visconti’s favorite composer.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Even though she isn't the sociopathic monster she was in the book, Livia ends up betraying her entire country in the film adaptation by handing over the money meant to aid the Italian troops to her lover.
  • Age Lift: In the original novella, Livia is only 19 at the time of her affair, but in the film she is portrayed as a mature woman approaching middle age.
  • At the Opera Tonight: The starting point of the film is a performance of Il Trovatore, where Roberto insults Franz.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Franz grows an unkempt beard when he lives as a deserter in Verona.
  • Blackmail: The caretaker of Franz's flat in Venice blackmails Livia: Livia gives her money, because she is afraid that she could tell about her affair with an Austrian officer.
  • Break Them by Talking: Livia tracks Franz down in Venice only to find him with a prostitute, living it up on Livia's money. Franz then reveals his true nature as a gold digger and coward, telling Livia that he used her for her money, that he never loved her, and that by the way he was the one who informed on Roberto to the Austrian police. A shattered Livia staggers away weeping.
  • Canon Foreigner: The film adds the character of Roberto, Livia's distant cousin who leads a rebellion against the Austrian occupation.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Livia's husband is pro-Austrian. Subverted later, because he's a weasel who sees how the wind is blowing, he turns his coat and starts supporting the rebels.
  • Costume Drama: A drama set during the Risorgimento.
  • Destructive Romance: Livia loses her status and her self-esteem. Franz ends up dead.
  • Dirty Coward: Franz manipulates Livia into giving him a bunch of money so he can bribe a doctor to declare him unfit, and thus escape the 1866 war.
  • Downer Ending: Livia gives up everything to go back to Franz, only to find out that he never loved her and was using her for her money. She betrays him to the Austrian authorities as a deserter, and he's stood up against a wall and shot. She's left wandering the streets of Verona alone, crying out his name.
  • Driven to Madness: All the stress she has endured and giving over evidence to see Franz executed drives Livia insane.
  • Duel to the Death: Roberto challenges Franz to a duel. Subverted because Roberto is arrested and exiled before the duel takes place.
  • Enter Stage Window: Franz climbs through Livia's window at her countryside villa, which is pretty daring, since 1) her husband was at home and 2) at this point Venice and Austria are at war.
  • In Vino Veritas: Franz confesses his true feelings in how much he loathes and used Livia when utterly drunk.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: "I dislike people behaving like characters in some melodrama", says Livia, a character in a melodrama.
  • Leave the Camera Running: The film opens with a two-minute shot in which an aria from Il Trovatore plays, while the camera slowly zooms in from the audience to the performers.
  • Lost in Imitation: In the original novella, Livia and her lover first meet in a swimming bath, but Visconti changed the location to a theatre. This change was kept for the 1993 French television and 2002 Italian theatrical adaptations of the novella.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Franz manipulates Livia into giving money by playing along with her romantic fantasies.
  • Meet Cute: A dramatic version thereof, as Livia interrupts what threatens to be a duel between Roberto and Franz.
  • Narrator: Livia herself narrates how she got caught up in a tempestuous affair.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: During their final confrontation, Franz tells Livia that she is just like him: she is not interested in the new world that is emerging and she is just looking for short-term pleasure. That is the reason why she gave him money.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The firing squad marching away after executing Franz.
  • La Résistance: Livia's cousin Roberto is part of an underground guerrilla network that is fighting against the occupation by the Austrian Empire.
  • Same Language Dub: All of Farley Granger's dialogue was dubbed by an Italian actor.note 
  • Shot at Dawn: Franz is executed by firing squad after Livia reveals to the Austrian commander that Franz bribed a doctor to declare him unfit for combat.
  • Shoutout: The opening scene has the characters attending a performance of Il trovatore.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Livia and Franz cannot be together: Livia is a married Italian noblewoman, Franz is an Austrian officer, and Italy and Austria are at war. Subverted because Franz does not really love Livia: he just wants to take advantage of her feelings for him.
  • Stealing from the Till: Livia, who is holding 3000 florins that is supposed to support the war effort, gives it all to Franz so he can get out of combat duty.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Livia reports Franz to the Austrian command for being a deserter.
  • Tragic Hero: Livia's dream is to find true love, but she is too naive and she does not realize that Franz does not really love her and that he manipulates her. When Franz tells her the truth, it is too late: she has lost her social status.
  • Trophy Wife: Livia's stuffy, gray-haired businessman husband Count Serpieri is well over twice her age, and doesn't seem to like her any more than she likes him.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to Roberto? We last see him wounded, but still alive, on a battlefield after the Italians have been defeated and are in retreat. (In Real Life the Austrians defeated the Italian rebellion but it didn't matter; they had to give up Veneto anyway after they were crushed by the Prussians in the Austro-Prussian War that same year.)
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Livia is very idealistic about love and she sacrifices everything for it, whereas Franz is a cynic manipulator.
  • Woman Scorned: When she understands that Franz has never loved her and that he has manipulated her all along, Livia reports him as a deserter to the Austrian command, which means he will be sentenced to death.