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aka - Gattopardo, Il
Italy 1963
Directed by
Luchino Visconti
205 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Leopard

Synopsis: The Prince of Salinas (Burt Lancaster) is the head of an aristocratic family threatened by the political upheaval of the Risorgimento. His beloved nephew, Tancredi (Alain Delon), goes off to fight with Garibaldi's revolutionaries. On his return he falls in love with Angelica (Claudia Cardinale), the beautiful daughter of one of the emerging middle class.

For a film-maker wanting to show the tide of history the challenge is always how to balance the large with the small, the signpost events with individual stories, how to depict all that costumed pageantry with the requirements for character development, to convey the meaning of change rather than just to show the changes themselves. This challenge beset master Italian film-maker Luchino Visconti in his faithful adaptation of Guiseppe di Lampedusa's internationally best-selling novel charting the demise of the old aristocratic order and the rise of the nouveau riche bourgeoisie. In essence he gets it right but certainly not without problems.

In order to get Lancaster to play the lead Visconti agreed to allow 20th Century Fox to release the film internationally. They did, but dubbed into English, lopped of some 44 minutes and re-processed into Cinemascope and Deluxe Color (it was also shown in an 161 minute version in France). Thankfully, the film has been restored to its original 205 minute running time, Technirama and Technicolor format and original dialogue.

With a film of this nature it is not easy to tell what is important to the setting of a mood and pace and what is merely gratuitous to the narrative. American movies are notoriously strong on narrative but weak on mood but it seems impossible to deny that Visconti's final print is too long. In particular, the two main set pieces, the battle scene at the beginning and the gala ball at the end, whilst gorgeous exercises in historical recreation are overdone and there is an odd sequence, involving Delon and Cardinale in an abandoned chateau that appears to have no purpose. Somewhat anomalously, given the excess of footage in other respects, the editing is consistently choppy, often crunching from scene to scene as if to pre-empt an awkward gesture or technical flaw for which there was no better alternative take.

Whilst intellectually, Visconti manages wonderfully to show the dying of an era, largely thanks to Burt Lancaster's compelling performance, materially he is less successful. The passage of time is very uncertain. At the beginning of the film the Prince is a virile man of middle years, one passage of dialogue suggesting that he is in his late forties. By the end of the film he is an old man about to expire. But more from disgust than old age for no more than a few months appear to have elapsed (students of Italian history will be able to pinpoint the lapse of time as the film's ending is marked by the execution of Garibaldi's followers). Similarly with no apparent explanation Delon's character goes from being a likeable happy-go-lucky revolutionary to a rather nasty reactionary sympathiser.

With gorgeous costumery, a splendiferous production design and picturesque location photography Il Gattarpado is undoubtedly a high quality film (it won Best Film at Cannes in 1963) one that owes much to Lampedusa's original text and Visconti's empathy for the period (he was himself a member of one of Italy's oldest aristocratic families), but it is a flawed one.




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