American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Luchino Visconti's “The Damned” is a magnificent failure, an example of a great director working at the peak of his ability and somehow creating almost nothing at all. Surely no one else could have made this film; surely no one at all should have.
It is one of the most impenetrable films ever made. Characters and plots keep slipping away from us, as in a frustrating dream. We are never quite sure where we are. Even in the physical sense, the movie is inaccessible. Visconti guides his camera through a radically under-lighted abyss; there are long passages of near-darkness during which we occasionally glimpse a face, or a shadow, or figures slipping across a street.
The effect is claustrophobic, and we want out. We want sun; we want light; we want to see. Visconti, of course, intended this effect, but did he know it would prove so effective? His intention is to involve us within the tightening gloom of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, when civilization flickered out. But his visual style operates not so much against the Nazis as against the movie, which becomes increasingly difficult to endure.
His story, bizarre as it is, does succeed in reflecting Germany's decay. His central character, a young man slipping into insanity, realizes himself only during the most destructive perversions. The one tender moment he experiences during the entire film leads, eventually, to the rape and suicide of a 6-year-old girl. He finds no release in healthy sexuality, or in any other creative activity. His pathetic search for love, conducted in all the wrong places, leads to his destruction.