Sandra ★★★★

This Visconti melodrama starts on what I think might be intentionally shaky aesthetic ground, depicting the end of a couple’s exhausting party. These opening scenes lack the filmmaker’s signature visual flair, and given how fabulously stylized everything that follows is, I suspect that the banality of these moments is meant to reflect on the banality of modernity and their relationship to boot.

Within minutes, the film whisks titular character Sandra and her well-meaning husband off to her hometown, a historic village slowly being consumed by landslides. It’s a magnificently gloomy setting that is only intensified by the film’s heavily symbolic black-and-white photography and it serves as an almost literal submergence into Sandra’s past. Before long, the particulars of this predictable display of upper class decay begin to shift into focus. What’s most interesting is that Sandra herself remains somewhat inscrutable and hard to read, even as the horrors of incest, the Holocaust, and the small town gossip mill bring themselves to bear upon her. Knowing that this is a loose variation on the Electra myth (even if it feels more like ersatz Tennessee Williams), one suspects that Visconti didn’t feel the need to psychologize his heroine, so it’s the left to his fabulous uses of costuming, darkness, and framing as well as some of the most expressive zooms ever committed to celluloid to fill in the gaps.