Visconti’s retelling of the Electra story starts with Sandra/Electra (Cardinale) returning to her ancestral home in Italy – and reviving an intimate involvement with her brother (Sorel) which troubles her naive American husband (Craig) – on the eve of an official ceremony commemorating the death of her Jewish father in a Nazi concentration camp. As ever with Visconti, he is ambivalently drawn to the decadent society he is ostensibly criticising; and Armando Nannuzzi’s camera lovingly caresses the creaking old mansion, set in a landscape of crumbling ruins, where the incestuous siblings determine to wreak revenge on the mother (Bell) and stepfather (Ricci) who supposedly denounced their father. Something like a Verdi opera without the music, the result may not quite achieve tragedy, but it looks marvellous. The title, culled from a poem by Leopardi, has been better rendered as ‘Twinkling Stars of the Bear’.
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