Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Leopard

The Leopard aka Il Gattopardo (Luchino Visconti, 1963)


Extraordinarily epic.

Exquisite three hour film (that is, if you watch the original Italian, rather than
the edited, dubbed American version*) of the change-over from one generation of Italian artistocracy to one with fewer ties to the past, amidst a changing landscape that will ultimately change fortunes. Don Salina (Burt Lancaster) is a prince of the old lineage observing the change that will ultimately overthrow the government and his rights to power, even as he sees the old ways and traditions begin to erode in the rise of his nephew Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon) who chooses to marry below his station to the manipulative Angelica (Claudia Cardinale). In one of the many allusions to the animal kingdom, Don Salina fears that his generation of leopards is being handed over to jackals.
In its timeline and its scope, it could be labeled the Italian Gone With the Wind. Certainly the care and attention to detail that director Visconti, Director of Photography Giuseppe Rotunno, and Production Designer Mario Garbuglia brought to bare can be compared to the extravagance of the American epic. But it's a smarter, richer film—a far better film—with layered subtleties that GWTW never aspired to.
Visconti had a special affinity for the material. Like the author of the original novel, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the director was born to the aristocracy. He knew its joys and pleasures and tastes, and he follows Lampedusa's celebration of that life in its recognition. But Visconti became a Marxist, so he looks at the excesses and hypocrises with less sentiment than Lampedusa does. But, he also acknowledges that change ultimately doesn't change much where fortunes are involved.
Contained here are some of the beautiful images that Visconti, Rotunno, and Garbuglia composed, rich in color and detail like fine paintings. But they're in motion and filled with life and portent and commentary.
I've seen The Leopard only once. Its beauties compel further viewings with which more of the complexities of the work will become apparent. One can't wait to get started.
Films like The Leopard are why one falls in love with the medium in the first place.
* Sydney Pollack supervised the dubbed version, and even he acknowledged it hurt the movie. One of the odd things about it is Lancaster's performance: He's actually better dubbed in Italian with a different, gruffer voice, rather than the soft, smokey baritone of his own voice. In fact, the combination of Lancaster's screen-work and substituted voice combine to make the greatest performance he never gave!

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