Franco Brusati's To Forget Venice is an impressive Italian movie which fully deserves the prestige it has already garnered overseas. The setting is a country house near Venice. Here Marta, a former opera singer, lives with Anna, her adopted niece, and Claudia, Anna's friend since childhood. Everyone's spirits are lifted when Marta's brother Nicky arrives for a visit. He brings along Picchio, his lover and partner in Milan.
The opening scene in the film conveys the sexual complications of the story. Claudia, a teacher, is in the midst of a game of hide-and-seek with her students. While she is blindfolded, they mischievously frolic. Taking off the scarf, she notices a young couple in the act of intercourse. In Claudia's expression, we see an ambivalent expanse of curiosity and disgust. It is a poignant scene and a key to what will follow.
The two lead characters in To Forget Venice, Anna and Nicky, are both given to memories of the past. Through several dream-like sequences, we learn that Anna was raised by her man-hating mother after her father ran away with another woman. As the result of the unloving treatment she received as a child, she has turned into a spiteful and stony woman.
Nicky's reveries are more tender. He recalls the time he and a friend as boys were taken away from their masturbatory fantasies to a real life view of a washer woman bathing nude in a pond. And the happy time of Marta's birthday when her father put on a theatrical skit in celebration of her youth, beauty, and intelligence.
Marta is called "Aunt" by Anna and Nicky who even as adults look to her for the self-assurance and accomplishment they lack. One evening five of them go out to dinner. Marta is recognized and asked to sing. She and Nicky then dance the tango. Claudia is so emotionally caught up in the festivities that she remarks: "If only it could be like this forever!" Anna sighs knowingly. The spell of enchantment is shattered the next day when Marta suffers a heart attack and dies.
Anna and Nicky are shocked into a re-evaluation of their lives. She goes into a period of isolation and desolation and he retreats into the past once again. But then, almost miraculously, they both take positive steps toward independence from enslavement to their yesterdays. Anna and Claudia leave for Milan and a new life. Nicky decides to stay on at the estate and, while saying goodbye to Picchio, indicates his desire to give up the quest for eternal youth.
To Forget Venice is an eye inveigling movie luxuriously photographed by Romano Albani. The performances are uniformly excellent. Erland Josephson who was so memorable in Bergman's Scenes From a Marriage is magical as Nicky, the middle-aged dreamer. Mariangela Melato who triumphed in Swept Away is convincingly morose and coiled as Anna. Eleonora Giorgi brings innocence and charm to the role of Claudia. David Pontrimoli is vulnerable and coltish as Picchio. And Hella Petri shines as Aunt Marta. Franco Brusati's (Bread and Chocolate) evocative handling of this film accentuates its thematic richness and gives further proof of his importance among the world's foremost directors.