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Doubles and Duality (a few words about Luchino Visconti and a few more about Conversation Piece)

Viscontiís next to the last film Conversation Piece was created after three of the directorís films that reflected his absorption with German topics and the German culture in general, as well as his tendency towards a Ľbaroqueę directing technique, as in The Damned, Death in Venice and Ludwig. As a chamber piece, made entirely in the studio (and only with a few actors), this film represented a certain reaction to the previous ones with its orientation towards Italian topics as well as a more stifled directing technique. Above all the film has been repeatedly considered within the context of Viscontiís permanent preoccupation with the family as another of Viscontiís contributions to showing its dissipation, but also as a film that, together with Death in Venice, talks about the unsuccessful wish for renewal, reconstruction of the family. No sooner than in the first frames, images and overviews of different group pictures (family pictures) and portraits in an interior illustrate the title and at the same time the topic of the film is prefigured. In the process the problems of presentation and reproduction, problems inherent in films, are almost casually pointed out.

The film goes on to develop this relation to the genre of painting with compositions of frames which, by arranging the characters, manifest themselves as quotations, doubles of the painted group portraits in the interior. As far as space is concerned, the film is based on the interrelation of two premises, the labyrinthine flat of the Professor, stuffed with old furniture, books, paintings and antiques, and the renovated flat that he has rented to Bianca Brumonti which is designed in a contemporary impersonal style. However, the Professorís flat itself is also specifically doubled when the so far unknown premises of the small hidden room as a place of ultimate security is introduced. The film also stands out when it comes to the doublings of time, which are achieved with three short retrospections that, as a whole, form an opposition to the present. The plot is also based on a series of oppositions that is doublings. The Professor is juxtaposed to the family/group of the marquise, but at the same time parallels between him and Konrad are developed. The relation between the Professor and Konrad acquires characteristics of the relation between an original and its double as well as, for that matter, metaphorical implications of a father-son-relation. Among other character dualities it is important to recognize the characters of the Professorís mother and wife as, semantically, one.

The Professor in Conversation Piece is another of Viscontiís characters of melancholy, a state which Visconti continually returned to in many of his films, especially from The Leopard on, also a state that largely corresponds to the dualities of the characters and clefts. Conversation Piece itself, as a whole or partly, relates as a double to some other of Viscontiís films, and the roles of Burt Lancaster, Silvana Mangano and Helmut Berger offer opportunities for comparison with their earlier appearances in Viscontiís films. The series of structural and character dualities (doublings, oppositions, contrasts and parallels) which Conversation Piece is permeated with doesnít represent an exception in Viscontiís work. Namely, Viscontiís films often reflect dichotomies, doublings and oppositions on a character, world-view, narrative as well as visual level.

Bruno Kragiś

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