Death in Venice (1971) - full transcript

In this adaptation of the Thomas Mann novel, avant-garde composer Gustave Aschenbach (loosely based on Gustav Mahler) travels to a Venetian seaside resort in search of repose after a period of artistic and personal stress. But he finds no peace there, for he soon develops a troubling attraction to an adolescent boy, Tadzio, on vacation with his family. The boy embodies an ideal of beauty that Aschenbach has long sought and he becomes infatuated. However, the onset of a deadly pestilence threatens them both physically and represents the corruption that compromises and threatens all ideals.

Here you go.

Our best wishes
for a most enjoyable sojourn.

Let us bring our poor service
to your kind attention.

Au revoir. Excusez. Bonjour!

Your Excellency.

And by the way, sir,

our compliments to your little sweetheart,

to your pretty little sweetheart.

Our best wishes, signore.

Take me to the steamship landing.

I said take me to the steamship landing.

The signore is going to the Lido.

Yes, I know that,
but first I want to go to San Marco.

I get the vaporetto from there.

But you cannot take the vaporetto.

Why not?

Because the vaporetto
does not take luggage.

That is my concern! Turn round!

How much do you charge for this trip?

The signore will pay.

I'll pay you no penny at all

unless you take me
exactly where I want to go.

- You want to go to the Lido.
- But not with you.

I am a good rower, signore.
I row you well.

I don't understand.

- That gondolier is a bad character.
- Ah?

He has no license.
The other gondoliers telephoned.

He saw the police waiting,
and he made off quickly.


you had a ride to the Lido for nothing.

Thank you.

Good afternoon, Professor von Aschenbach.

Allow me to extend you
the compliments of the management.

I hope the room we have reserved
will meet with your satisfaction.

We have a marvelous beginning of season,
just a little scirocco.

I hope you will have a marvelous time.


Third floor. Please.

No, this side, please.

Come in.

Here is your room.

After you.

I hope the flowers won't bother you.

We have reserved the best room
in the hotel for you, Professor.

I hope you will like it.

You have a marvelous view of the sea.

Today the weather is not very good,
but tomorrow it will be better.

I hope you enjoy your visit,

and I hope that the room we have reserved
for you is completely to your liking.

Well, when you need something,
you call me, sir.

- Thank you.
- Grazie.

Oh. Your key, Professor Aschenbach.

308. Remember.

Excuse me.

He's going to be all right.

When do you think
he'll be able to work again?

Hmm. That's difficult to say...
in cases like this.

I must say, he has no reason
to be proud of his heart.

He needs to get away from it all.
A long period of complete rest.




I remember...

we once had one of those...

in my father's house.

The aperture through which the sand runs
is so tiny that,

at first, it seems
as if the level in the upper glass...

never changes.

To our eyes,
it appears that the sand runs out only...

only at the end.

And until it does,
it's not worth thinking about.

Till the last moment...

when there's no more time...

when there's no more time left
to think about it.

Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served.

- Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
- Good evening.

- Dinner will be served in five minutes.
- Ah, that's all right.

- I am sure you will enjoy the dinner.
- I'm sure.

I have a good appetite.
I had a good walk today.

What are you going to have to drink?

Dry sherry.


Excuse me.

- Soup and fish.
- Thank you.

Nothing else.


You mean your spiritual conception
of beauty.

But do you deny the ability
of the artist to create from the spirit?

Yes, Gusta v,
that is precisely what I deny.

And so then, according to you,

our labor as artists is a...

Labor, exactly.

Do you really belie ve in beauty
as the product oflabor?


Yes, I do.

That's how beauty is born.

Like that, spontaneously.

In utter disregard
for your labor and mine.

It preexists our presumption as artists.


Your great error, my dear friend,

is to consider life... reality...
as a limitation.

Well, isn't that what it is?

Reality only distracts and degrades us.

You know, sometimes I think...

Sometimes I think that artists are
rather like hunters aiming in the dark.

They don't know what their target is,
and they don't know if they've hit it.

But you can't expect life to illuminate
the target and steady your aim.

The creation of beauty and purity
is a spiritual act.

No, Gustav. No.

Beauty belongs to the senses.

Only to the senses.

You cannot reach the spirit...

You cannot reach the spirit
through the senses.

You cannot.

It's only by complete domination
of the senses

that you can ever achieve

wisdom, truth, and human dignity.

Wisdom? Human dignity?


What use are they?

Genius is a divine gift.

No, no, no... a divine affliction.

A sinful, morbid flash fire
of natural gifts.

I reject...
I reject the demonic virtues of art.

And you are wrong.

Evil is a necessity.

It is... It is the food of genius.

Thank you, Ilse.

Do you want some tea?

Mmm. Please.

If you want milk, help yourself to it.

Thank you.

You know, Alfred...

art is the highest source of education...

and the artist has to be exemplary.

He must be a model
of balance and strength.

He cannot be ambiguous.

But art is ambiguous.

And music,
the most ambiguous of all the arts.

It is ambiguity made a science.


Listen to this chord.

Or this one.

You can interpret them
in any way you like.

You have before you an entire series
of mathematical combinations,

unforeseen and inexhaustible.

A paradise of double meanings,
in which you, more than anyone else,

romp and roll about
like a... like a calf in clover.

Don't you hear it?

- Do you recognize it?
- Stop, stop.

It's yours! It's all your music!

Good morning, Professor von Aschenbach.

Good morning.

- Uh, the weather...
- Sir?

The scirocco.

How long do you think it will last?

Well, you must understand, signore,

that the scirocco blows for, um,
three days if it starts on a Tuesday,

nine days if it starts on Friday.

But if it has not blown itself out
by the tenth day,

oh, then, oh, it goes on for 21 days.

Now, it began a week on Friday.

That makes today the tenth day.

But sure, the last. Sure.

Excuse me, Professor. Have a pleasant day.

Thank you.

Uh, bring me a chair and a table, please.

Tadzio! Tadzio!

- Hello, John.
- Hello. What's going on here anyways?

Did you make love
with my husband last night?


Are you going to buy that one there?

You know, just like this.

How much is he asking for them?

And you?

You wanna watch out for these peddlers.

They'll charge you about three times
as much as the stuff's worth.

I want that, that, and the other one.

Oh, no. Oh, no, Dorothy.

It's very dangerous in this hot weather.

You shouldn't eat any fresh fruit.

No, I can't. No, no, no.

Only, only cooked vegetables.

Tadzio! Tadzio!

- Tadzio!
- Tadzio!





Tadzio, non! Non!


- Tadzio!
- Tadzio!


Ground floor. Please.

Second floor. Please.

That's not shame. That's fear.

Shame is a spiritual distress
to which you are immune,

because you are immune to feeling.

You are the man of avoidance, of dislike.

The keeper of distances.

You are afraid to have direct,
honest contact with anything.

Because of your rigid standards
of morality,

you want your behavior to be as perfect
as the music you compose.

Every slip is a fall, a catastrophe,
resulting in irreparable contamination.

- I am contaminated!
- If only you were!

To be in debt to one's own senses

for a condition which is
irredeemably corrupt and sick!

What joy for an artist!

Think what a dry and arid thing
good health is,

especially if it's of the soul
no less than the body.

I have to find my balance somehow.

How unfortunate that art is so indifferent
to personal morality.

Otherwise you would be supreme,
unreachable, inimitable.

Tell me, do you know what lies
at the bottom of the mainstream?


- You are leaving us tomorrow, sir?
- Uh, yes, tomorrow.

- Oh!
- Unforeseen circumstances.

Oh. Tsk, tsk.

- Uh, an unexpected obligation.
- I understand.

I, uh...

I have to return to Munich.

I had the news this morning.
It's unavoidable.

- Tsk, tsk, tsk.
- Also, I'm not very well.

And, uh, this climate is...

Oh, yes, sir.

- ...most trying for my health.
- Mm, I understand, sir.

- Will you have my luggage sent on...
- Yes, sir.

- ...tomorrow? And any letters?
- Oh, of course, sir.

And have my bill made out immediately.

As you wish, Mr. Aschenbach.

The bill of Mr. Aschenbach immediately,

Thank you.

- I will, uh, have right down...
- Yes, thank you.

Excuse me, sir. I've been told to...

Told to what?

Forgive my insistence, but the motor
launch is waiting. Time presses, sir.

Time does not press.

Hotels have a habit of trying to be rid
of one as soon as one has paid one's bill.

I find it intolerable.

If the motor launch cannot wait for me,
then send my luggage on it.

I will follow on later
by public conveyance.

I beg your pardon, sir.

Now would you let me
finish my breakfast in peace?

Send me a newspaper. Any one.

Yes, sir.

Farewell, Tadzio. It was all too brief.

May God bless you.

Munich. First-class.

For today, signore?

- What?
- For today?

Yes. For today.

I don't know that you can catch the train.

It leaves for Verona in four minutes.

If you miss that one, there is another.

And you will miss also your connection.

Yes, well, will you hurry?

Your change, signore.

Mr. Aschenbach.
I am terribly sorry, sir. I am mortified.

- An error, a most unfortunate mistake.
- Who are you? What do you want?

Well, it's one of those things
that should never happen,

but, you know, it did happen.

- You're going to make me miss my train.
- Your trunk has already left for Como.

- Como?
- Anyway, the company will try to get...

I want it back now, immediately.

I'm afraid, sir, that cannot be done.
You will have to wait.

Wait? What do I wait for? I want my trunk.

I insist on having my trunk here
this minute.

Please, sir. Take your train to Munich,

and the trunks will join you there
within three days.

I will not leave Venice
until my trunk is returned.

Very good, sir. You have most certainly
taken the best course.

Oh, take this back
and get the money refunded.

And see the launch is ready.

I intend to return immediately
to the Lido.

Yes, sir.

Gustav! Gustav!

Oh! Oof!


Oh, Tadzio!

- One moment.
- Yes, Mr. Aschenbach?

Can you tell me

why there is nothing
in any of the newspapers

about what is happening here?

Even I have heard stories.

Ah, so... have heard
those extravagant rumors too?

No, believe me, sir,
there is no epidemic, not even sickness.

What about the notices
being put up by the health department?

- You've seen those, I suppose?
- Certainly, Mr. Aschenbach.

But every year, in the summer months,

Venice is papered
with that sort of notice.

The police do it.

They are interested in avoiding any risk
to the public well-being.

But it's nothing more than that,
I assure you,

even if certain foreign newspapers
take advantage of the situation

to spread libelous rumors
in order to discourage the tourists.

It's very unpleasant, don't you agree?

But no need to be concerned,
Mr. Aschenbach.

No need for concern. Excuse me.

Esmeralda. Esmeralda.

You must never smile like that.

You must never smile like that at anyone.

I love you.


Tadzio! Tadzio!

What is this filthy smell?


It's everywhere in the city.

What is it?

Thank you.

Grazie, signore. Grazie. Grazie.

- Come here.
- Eh?

Why are they disinfecting Venice?

Oh, uh...

The police orders, signore.

Because of heat and scirocco.

The scirocco is oppressive.

No good for health.

So there's no sickness in Venice?

A sickness? Oh!

What sort of sickness?

Uh, the scirocco a sickness?

Perhaps our police, sickness?

Just a precaution, signore.

Grazie. Grazie.


Thank you. Good afternoon.

- Good afternoon.
- Good afternoon.

I want to change some German marks.

- Sir?
- For lire.

- 300.
- 300.

Thank you.

- Good day.
- Good afternoon, sir. Thank you.

Excuse me.

Could I have a word with you, please?

Oh, yes. Yes, of course.

Now, sir, can I help you?

Well, I'd be most grateful.

I've been trying to find out...

No one will tell me the truth.

They're disinfecting Venice.

Do you know why?

No cause for alarm, sir. A mere formality.

A precautionary measure
in view of the unhealthy cli...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Oh, just a moment, sir.

I'd like to have a word with you.

Will you come this way?



Now, that was the official explanation,
which they seem to want to stick to.

But I can tell you
there's a bit more to it than that.

For several years,

Asiatic cholera has shown a marked
tendency to spread beyond its source,

which of course you know
is in the waters of the Ganges.

First it spread to Hindustan.
Then it moved east to China.

Then it went west
to Afghanistan and Persia.

Are you following me, sir?

Yes, yes.

Well, from Persia, the plague moved
along the great caravan route,

striking terror in Afghanistan,
terror in Moscow.

From Moscow, it was expected
to spread across to Europe by land.

No, no. Instead, it was carried by sea
from the Syrian ports

to Toulon and Málaga

and then to Palermo and Naples.

And it soon got a very firm grip
on Calabria.

Northern Italy seems
to have been spared so far.

But when you consider
the vulnerability of Venice,

with its lagoons and its scirocco...

In May...

the horrible vibrios were found
on the same day in two bodies...

on the blackened,
emaciated body of a boatman...

and in a lady
who kept a greengrocer's shop.

Yes. Well, both of these deaths
of course were hushed up,

but now, week by week,
there are more and more deaths.

It's quite impossible
to count the number of the dead.

Do you know that in the hospitals,
there's not a single free bed to be had.

Well, the people all know of course.
They're terrified, but they're silent.

And do you know why?

Summer. Tourists.

The whole business of Venice is tourists.

Can you imagine Venice without tourists?

Well, it would be more desolate
than the winter.

You would be very well advised
to leave today, sir.

Don't wait till tomorrow.

The blockade cannot be
more than a few days off.


Will you permit an entire stranger...

to serve you...

with a word of advice and warning...

which self-interest
prevents others from saying?

Go away.

Go away immediately. Don't delay.

Please, I beg you.

Take... Take Tadzio and your daughters.

I implore you. Please.

Venice is gripped by pestilence.



Thank you.

Thank you.

What kind of road have I chosen?

What sort of road?

- Gray.
- Yes, of course.

And you know why, signore?

Because of your negligence.

Because you don't take enough trouble
over your appearance.

in a great gentleman such as you,

but a big mistake nonetheless.


You're much too important a person

to be a slave to conventions
about nature and artifice.

You know, sir, we are as old as we feel,
but no older.

You, for instance, signore,
have a right to your natural color.

Se permette?


I will restore
what belongs to you immediately.


Leave it to me.

And now the signore may fall in love
as soon as he pleases.





You cheat.
You magnificent swindler.

What more do they want from me?

Pure beauty. Absolute severity.

Purity of form! Perfection!

The abstraction of the senses.

It's all gone! Nothing remains!

Nothing, nothing, nothing.

Your music is stillborn!
And you are unmasked!


Send them away. Please, make them go.

Send them away?

I will deliver you to them!

No, Alfred, please, please.

Don't, don't. Please.

To them!

They will judge you!

And they will condemn you!

No, Alfred. No, no.

No. No. No.


No! No!

Wisdom, truth, human dignity...

all finished.

Now there is no reason why you cannot go
to your gra ve with your music.

You have achie ved perfect balance.

The man and the artist are one.

They ha ve touched bottom together.

You never possessed chastity.

Chastity is the gift ofpurity,
not the painful result of old age.

And you are old, Gustav.

And in all the world,
there is no impurity so impure as old age.

Morning, madame.

Morning, madame. Buongiorno.

- Good morning.
- Morning, sir.

Good morning.

- Whose is this?
- The Poles'. Mrs. Moore's and her family.

- When?
- After lunch.

Tadzio. Tadzio.