The story of sexual mischief amongst aristocrats at the end of the 19th Century. Tullio Hermil is an aristocrat who neglects his wife Giuliana to spend more time with his mistress Teresa. He is lured back to the marital bed when he hear's of his wife's infidelity, the fact that she may be pregnant weighs heavily on the already slightly deragnged Tullio.
In his last film, Visconti returned to the widescreen costume melodrama, but chose a surprisingly intimate story (there are only three leading characters) rather than yet another sweeping portrait of high society decadence, as seen in The Damned and The Leopard. Turn-of-the-century aristo Giannini neglects his wife (Antonelli) for his mistress (ONeill), but is wooed back to the conjugal bed when Antonelli has a fling with an author, and becomes increasingly uptight (and deranged) when he learns that his wife is carrying her dead lovers child.
For the most part, it is a poised melodrama of stiff characters in stiffer costumes (Scorsese borrowed a lot for The Age Of Innocence), but there is an extraordinary sensual interlude as the couple find brief erotic happiness in extensive breast-fondling intimacy. The latter stretches are especially powerful, as tragedy, guilt, murder and suicide force the characters to become less emotional.
An intriguing film that grows in power and stature as it develops.