The Leopard, which is sometimes called the Italian Gone with the Wind, is a gorgeous film adapted from a novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. For the restoration of this gem, we have Martin Scorsese to thank, an effort that involved 12,000 hours transferring 35 mm prints into a digital format and removing 47 years of dirt and scratches. For the existence of this work, we have Luchino Visconti to praise.
- Director: Luchino Visconti
- Writer: Pasquale Festa Campanile, Enrico Medioli, Massimo Franciosa, Luchino Visconti, Suso Cecchi d’Amico
- Cast: Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, Serge Reggiani, Terrence Hill, Pierre Clementi
Taking place in the 1860′s, the Prince of Salina (Burt Lancaster) gets word that Garibaldi troops are in Sicily and are posing a threat to his country. Complicating matters further, the Prince’s nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon) has become an officer in Garibaldi’s army and returns home as a hero. Meanwhile, Trancredi has fallen for Angelica (Claudia Cardinale), the daughter of newly elected Mayor Don Calogero Sedara (Paolo Stoppa), whom the Prince does not like but feels compelled to accept for political and social reasons.
Though I am a bit reluctant to deem this a great film, mainly due to it feeling a bit long, there is excellence here. The film functions like an opera of war, politics, religion, social status, and romance. As a period piece, the costumes and sets are splendid, and the rich detail in Techniscope transports us back into an intimate place in history. Burt Lancaster is perfectly cast, and though his voice is not one we hear for the Italian version of this film, his presence alone is worth gold. The atmosphere is not only created by stunning imagery, it also filled with compelling discussions focusing on the implications of class warfare and the merits of becoming a politician. One of my favorite scenes in the film involves a man trying to convince the Prince to become a Senator, and what ensues is a conversation wrapped in the type of wisdom that only historical perspective can provide. Though what the film implies about Sicilian culture is perhaps up for debate, the type of social commentary is held up higher by the tone perfectly maintained by Visconti’s directing.
Much time is spent showing us the social conventions of the day, as the film allows the setting to take on a life of its own. I’ve read that the 30 minute ball at the end of the film is often cited as one of the most spectacular sequences in film history, and I wouldn’t argue that. But with a dense plot and some ambiguous morality, it is hard to fully appreciate this film without greater context. In this respect, the film seems to barely fall short, although I get the feeling that repeated viewings and a greater understanding of mid-nineteenth century Italian history would only enhance this already lavish experience.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
Ebert’s review begins with an adequate consideration given to whether anyone else on this planet could have written, directed or starred in this film. He follows up by sharing some of the personal histories for those involved in such roles in this film, and so begins a review that is clearly praising a rare treat of a film. While some of the film’s subject matter didn’t feel fully accessible to me, I love what this film has an amazing sense of atmosphere. The dialogue is often profound, and as Ebert reminds us, Lancaster’s character is “aware of his age and mortality, inclined to have spiritual conversations with his friend Father Pirrone, and prepared to compromise in order to preserve his family’s fortunes.” I am very much in agreement that much of this film would feel like a soap opera in the hands of other directors, and Ebert goes to on describe various nuances that add much when he states, “we see a history that cannot be acted, only embodied”.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GOOD
Do you like The Leopard? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: The Passion of Joan of Arc
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 354 films. Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard this week, he now has 323 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.