Sandra [Vaghe stelle dell’orsa]

(Italy 1965)

Sandra is Luchino Visconti’s scandalous, wonderfully melodramatic postwar reworking of the story of Elektra and her brother, Orestes. Here, Sandra (Claudia Cardinale) and her husband (Michael Craig), return to her girlhood family estate to dedicate property as a park in the name of her father, a victim of Auschwitz. To her surprise, her brother, Gianni (Jean Sorel), from whom she was “separated” years ago, shows up in the night, dragging skeletons out of the closet with him and his freshly penned novel.

Loaded with longing gazes, forlorn poses, dramatic sighs, and loud piano slams, Sandra plays out like an Italian soap opera. The big question involves incest: did Sandra and Gianni, or didn’t they? Cardinale and Sorel are both beautiful, contrasting nicely with the barren landscape and crumbling structures in Volterra, the Etruscan city where the story takes place. Visconti doesn’t answer the big question, but he offers evidence for us to draw our own conclusion. I sensed but didn’t quite grasp the significance of the siblings being half Jewish; I couldn’t tell whether this was intended to be antisemitic, but it added to the melodrama whatever it was about.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B

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