Review by Ed Nguyen
Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli,
Director: Luchino Visconti
Audio: Italian 1.0
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 2.21:1
Features: See Review
Length: 185 minutes
Release Date: June 8, 2004
were the leopards, the lions. Those who will take our place will be jackals,
Visconti, one of Italy's finest directors, is often considered the father of
Italian neorealism. His first film,
Ossessione (1942), was a loose
adaptation of The Postman Always Rings
Twice. More importantly, it
employed a naturalistic setting to create a realistic portrayal of existence for
the common people. This innovative,
new style revitalized the Italian film industry and heralded the arrival of
neorealism, the cinematic movement that would dominate the Italian cinema for
the following decade.
however, would not remain a neorealist for long. His second feature, La
terra trema (1948), already began to move beyond the boundaries of
neorealism, showcasing a more operatic cinematic approach that would become the
hallmark of his directorial career. Visconti
was an infrequent director, with his subsequent feature films each achieving
great anticipation. Of his later
films, Il Gattopardo (The
Leopard, 1963) more than any other was the epitome of his sweeping and
grandiose visual style.
in the mid-nineteenth century during a period of political upheaval in Sicily, The
Leopard follows events in the lives of the Prince of Salina and his family.
A faithful adaptation of a popular 1958 Giuseppe di Lampedusa novel, The
Leopard focuses on a recurrent theme in Visconti's films - the slow
disintegration of the family. This
metaphor can be extended in the film to represent Sicilian society in general,
particularly in the film's volatile atmosphere.
The title itself is an analogy, comparing the noblesse of the old order
to the less refined mannerisms of the new guard.
set during a period of social unrest and civil war quite like that seen in the
American film Gone with the Wind.
One may even see visual similarities in the opulent appearances and
sweeping panoramic backdrops of both films.
However, The Leopard is a far
less melodramatic film and offers a more penetrating depiction of the
socio-political uncertainty of the post-war environment and its effects on the
best appreciate The Leopard, it is
important to understand the political undercurrents of the film.
Italy, circa 1859, was a fragmented collection of independent states,
each controlled by different ruling interests.
The Papal states resided in central Italy.
Towards the south, King Ferdinand II ruled over the Bourbon states of
Naples and Sicily. The Savoy States
were ruled by Victor Emmanuel, whose minister would later back the revolutionary
general Garibaldi. Austria, after
the Napoleonic Wars, had seized control of Northern Italy, establishing in the
process the birth of ambitious plans to eventually re-unify Italy.
the various important figures of the day, Garibaldi was perhaps the most
charismatic. Having trained in
guerilla warfare in Latin America, he had developed into a skilled leader and
tactician who, after the death of King Ferdinand II, led a rag-tag volunteer
army of students, idealists, and liberalists upon the shores of Marsala, Sicily
in May, 1860. The island state at
the time was divided among those loyal to the royal Bourbon government and those
supportive of the surging re-unification ideals.
Rousing victories by Garibaldi's army at Castelvetrano and Palermo
against the royal troops further converted the sympathetic masses to his side.
These romanticized battles would be but a few small steps in a long
series of events during this period, known as the Risorgimento (the Resurgence).
Even Garibaldi's eventual defeat at Aspromonte would not sway the tide of
changing sentiments. Instead, the
Risorgimento would result in the rise of the middle classes and the ultimate
creation of a unified and democratic Italy (as symbolized in the tricolor flag
of green, white, and red). The
inevitable impact, of course, would be the slow but certain decline of the
aristocracy as the central ruling class.
novel Il Gattopardo dealt with this
decline of the aristocracy. It
recreated a world where the splendor and luxury of the past was fading away,
particularly under the whirling shifts of power just beyond the immediate
perception of the characters. Lampedusa's
vision would be reproduced in Visconti's film, for Visconti, though progressive
in his views, was himself born into an aristocratic family.
As such, he was able to approach the Risorgimento from seemingly opposing
points of views. One might even
sense in the central character of the sympathetic but conflicted Prince of
Salina something of Visconti himself (Burt Lancaster, who played the role,
presumably based his portrayal on Visconti)!
had been initially uncertain about the American actor for the film's central
role. Among Visconti's original
choices for the role of the Prince had been Laurence Olivier, and the director
alternatively referred to Lancaster as "that American gangster" or
Lancaster displayed a commanding on-screen presence in the film which ultimately
converted Visconti. The two would
later become great friends, even collaborating again a decade later on another
film. Lancaster, for his part,
always expressed great pride in his work in The
Leopard, which featured his own personal favorite role.
The Leopard, this Prince of Salina
represents the aristocratic ruling class in general. The Prince is a dignified but aging aristocrat who watches
the tides of change alter the only world he has known. He recognizes that social and political change are
inevitable, but as a member of the old order of nobles, the Prince realizes his
uncomfortable position in a society in transition. Although he possesses a liberal and open-minded view, he is
aware that there is little room for him in the new order of things:
"I am a member of the old ruling class, hopelessly linked to the
past regime...I belong to an unfortunate generation straddling two worlds and
ill at ease in both."
Prince's opposite, introduced much later in the film, is Calógero, a member of
the nouveau riche of Italian middle-class society. The decline of one class and the resurgence of another is the
essence of the Risorgimento, which the film mirrors in its symbolic union, by
the film's conclusion, between the Prince's own nephew and Calógero's daughter.
The Leopard's three principal characters are thus the Prince
(Lancaster), his nephew Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon), and Angelica Sedŕra
commences at the Prince's home during Mass.
The arrival of the morning's letter announces the landing of Garibaldi's
troops upon Sicilian shores (thereby establishing the time period as May, 1860).
So at last, the Risorgimento has arrived in Sicily, and while its
immediate effects are subtle (much of the struggles between Garibaldi's army and
the royal troops will be off-screen), the changes to come are inevitable.
The film follows the Prince's family as events behind the civil revolt
unfold, especially with the departure of the Prince's young and idealist nephew
to join the revolutionary cause. The
nephew will leave, in fact, with the Prince's blessing.
follows is one of two magnificent set pieces in The Leopard. The film
recreates the epic storming of Palermo by Garibaldi's army.
While this sequence injects some action and excitement into the story,
more significantly, it also establishes the fickle nature of the Prince's
nephew, who switches alliances easily from the aristocracy to the revolutionary
spirit and eventually back again.
things to remain the same, everything must change."
This is a sentiment first cited by Tancredi, and then later by the Prince
himself, as both reflect upon the current political atmosphere that is
descending upon their world. In
many ways, the nephew is an image of the Prince as a younger man; the nephew's
introduction in the film is shown literally as a reflection in the Prince's
mirror while he shaves, suggesting that both men are more alike than they may
film continues through the summer and fall months, as the Prince takes his
family to their vacation palace in Donnafugata. Even in this small, remote setting, the political tidings
have stirred the general populace's interest.
The town, in a somewhat farce-like plebiscite in October, 1860, votes to
annex itself to the Savoy States in support of re-unification.
It is in this middle portion of the film that the characters of Don Calógero
and his daughter are introduced.
Prince himself is later approached by an emissary from the reunification effort
to accept a nomination as Senator in the new government structure.
While his sympathetic leanings and his honorable ideals make him a fine
candidate, in the end, the Prince realizes that his aristocratic upbringing
cannot be abandoned and that for better or worse, he is too old to truly change
his ways: "Your intention is good, but it comes too late...What you need is
a man who is good at blending his personal interests with vague public
ideals." It is a changing of the guard, with the Prince ultimately
suggesting Don Calógero as a candidate instead for the Senate.
so, we come to the film's famous conclusion with what is surely the most
elaborate and extensive ball sequence ever devised for film.
Occupying the entire final hour of the film, this luxurious, formal
celebration serves as Angelica's debutante party and is the visual centerpiece
of the film. While some important
plot elements are interspersed throughout this sequence, the main thrust of the
storyline has essentially been presented by this point and the ball sequence is
thus allowed to unfold naturally and casually with only a few narrative
this ball, members of the aristocracy and the nouveau riche will come together
in companionship and celebration. Tancredi
and Angelica announce their engagement. Tancredi,
having by now re-aligned his sympathies once more, confirms a certain duplicity
in his actions that ultimately reveals his differences from his uncle. Calógero, the de facto figurehead of Donnafugata, is shown
to possess an unrefined callousness but nevertheless represents the new
prominence of the middle class in Italy's (and Sicily's) ruling structure.
Prince, in watching the proceedings, recognizes his own symbolic passing.
He is almost reduced to a spectator at the ball.
In a moment of solitude, he reflects with morbid fascination upon a
painting (Grueze's "Death of a Just Man").
In his final hurrah, he dances with Angelica to a Verdi waltz under the
appreciative gaze of the revelers. The
dance offers the Prince one final moment of glory, a fleeting glimmer of his
departed youth and power, before conceding his social status to the new order of
suggests that this new bourgeoisie will somehow be less polished and formal in
its decorum than the old ways. Yet
for better or worse, the Risorgimento and its repercussions have established a
new Italy. The country has changed,
and Sicily with it, too. But in the
end, perhaps the new democratic order will suit Italians and Sicilians well
its premiere, The Leopard was awarded
the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Festival. The film, with its sheer scale and wondrous opulence,
represented Visconti at the peak of his creativity and in the intervening years
has established itself as a towering achievement in Italian cinema.
Few, if any, Italian films can compare to the scoop and grandeur of The
Leopard, either visually or thematically.
And alongside Fellini's 8 1/2, The
Leopard is certainly among the greatest Italian films of the last
presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.21:1 using Super Technirama, a
widescreen process adopted by Technicolor.
The transfer was supervised by the film's director of photography,
Giuseppe Rotunno, and was created from the original 35mm 8-perforation negative.
The picture quality looks absolutely stunning, with breath-takingly vivid
colors and gorgeous panoramas. The
film purportedly cost 3,000 million liras, and that expense can be seen in the
lush and exquisite cinematography of the Sicilian countryside and particularly
of the stately vacation palace in Donnafugata.
appearance of the film rivals that of Kubrick's epic Barry Lyndon, one of the greatest acknowledged masterpieces of the
period piece genre. The
Leopard's baroque color palate and the sumptuous nature of its frescoes and
canvases make many scenes appear composed almost as paintings, occasionally even
surpassing the high-water mark of Barry
Lyndon in terms of sheer artistry and the authentic recreation of a by-gone
era. Fortunately, the Criterion
print contains hardly any instances of aging and nearly perfectly preserves the
beauty of the film's cinematography. Kudos
to Criterion for a fantastic video presentation!
who prefer to watch the American cut of The
Leopard will see a transfer created from a 4-perforation 35mm interpositive.
The aspect ratio is 2.35:1, and the length, at 161 minutes, is shorter than the
original Italian film. Overall, the
American cut is slightly more degraded than the Italian version but is still
presented in its original Italian 1.0 sound (the American version of the film
offers an alternate English-dubbed soundtrack).
Sound is directed to the center channel speaker, although wider dispersal
of the mono sound is possible. For
the most part, the sound quality is pleasant and clear, with post-dubbing that
approximates the lip motions of the actors (many Italian films of this era were
filmed silently and post-dubbed later).
the music of The Leopard is at times
strongly reminiscent of the Godfather
films, that can be directly attributed to the score by composer Nino Rota, who
not only contributed to several Frederico Fellini films but also wrote the
scores for Coppola's Godfather films!
proudly presents The Leopard in a
three-disc set. The original
Italian film can be found in its entirety on disc one.
Also included on this disc is a commentary track by film scholar Peter
Cowie. He mentions in his
commentary Visconti's mentorship under Renoir as well as Visconti's own
aristocratic views of the Risorgimento period during which The
Leopard takes place. Cowie also
points out some of the scenes missing in the American version and briefly
outlines the careers of the film's three main stars - Burt Lancaster, Alain
Delon, and Claudia Cardinale (a radiant Italian beauty who was having a banner
year, having also appeared in Fellini's masterpiece 8 1/2 that same year). For
the film enthusiast, Cowie also elucidates how The Leopard was a huge
influence on Coppola's Godfather films
and Scorsese's The Age of Innocence.
a great bonus feature, the English-dubbed version of The Leopard can be found on disc three. At 161 minutes, it is somewhat shorter than the Italian
version but does feature Burt Lancaster's actual speaking voice.
To be honest, the Italian version is superior, not only because it is
longer and complete but because the Italian voices are more convincing than the
American accents, which sound out of place and un-authentic in what is
essentially a film about Italian history.
bulk of the bonus features can be found on disc two. The main feature here is A
Dying Breed: The Making of The Leopard.
This new one-hour documentary rounds up several of the surviving
participants from The Leopard to
provide their recollections and memories of work on the film.
Included are former members of the crew, the screenwriters, and also star
Claudia Cardinale. Director Syndey Pollack, who re-cut the film and re-dubbed it
for the original American release, appears too and freely admits that his
version of the film was decidedly inferior to Visconti's original vision.
are two interviews on this DVD. First
is one with Goffredo Lombardo (20 min.) that offers the producer an opportunity
to spin many yarns about the creation of The
Leopard. Despite temporarily
bankrupting Lombardo's production company, the film remains his personal
favorite today. Lombardo speaks
enthusiastically about the work on the screenplay, the initial meeting between
Visconti and the eventual lead actor, Burt Lancaster, and filming of the battle
and ballroom sequences (the two most expensive set pieces in the film).
the second bonus interview (13 min.), film historian Millicent Marcus discusses
the historical setting of the film. Professor
Marcus offers brief descriptions of the most significant leaders of the
Risorgimento and some of the important events of this critical period in Italy's
history. In fact, many viewers may
find the information provided here to be invaluable in setting the stage for The
Leopard, and I would certainly recommend watching this feature before
watching the film itself.
materials round out the rest of the bonus features. Included are three trailers, one for Italian audiences and
two for Americans. Italian
newsreels (3 min.) briefly cover the premiere of The
Leopard and offer glimpses of the Nastri Awards ceremony.
Finally, there is a stills gallery containing photographs and posters for
the film, divided into sections entitled "Unwelcome News" (13
photographs), "Battle of Palermo" (18), "Donnafugata" (21),
"The Ball" (32, mostly focusing on the very beautiful Claudia
Cardinale!), and "Posters" (12).
the package insert offers an essay about The
Leopard by film historian Michael Wood.
The essay compares the film to the novel as well as Visconti's
interpretation of events to that of Lampedusa, the novel's author.