Movies We've Just Watched discussion

Foreign Films > The Leopard-Italian Version (Luchino Visconti)

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments I was surprised to see Burt Lancaster in the role of an Italian Aristocrat because he's typed as a tough, physical actor who performs his own stunts, though his characters are almost always infused with intelligence and wit. I haven't seen many of Lancaster's films but this role is something special and must be experienced. If you're a fan of classic cinema, you should skip the shortened American cut that is dubbed and view the entire piece as Visconti envisioned.

THE LEOPARD: ITALIAN VERSION (Luchino Visconti, 1963, Italy) Prince Don Fabrizio Salina is the graceful feline, the anachronistic aristocracy who senses the winds of change eroding his way of life, winds that carry the putrid stench of revolution as the jackals congregate around the carrion spoils of war. Luchino Visconti’s beautiful and luscious film is imbued with grandeur, creating an epic tale of one man’s spiritual sacrifice to ensure a stable future for his family and heirs. Interesting that Visconti chose an American (Burt Lancaster) and a Frenchman (Alain Delon) to represent Italian characters whose pragmatic dichotomy is the lifeblood of the film. Lancaster’s performance is exceptional; he is emotionally reserved but not cold, he is a Prince but not unkind to the plebeian, he is head of the family but generous: he brings a subtle and charming elegance to his role. Alain Delon plays the zealous nephew and heir to the Prince’s fortunes; Delon doesn’t resort to caricature and invests his role with a benign virtue both believable and empathetic. Visconti lets the story unfold deliberately: from the hollow drone of a catholic prayer to a dead soldier in the courtyard, the sheltered life of the Prince’s family must swim or drown in the undertow of sea change. Tancredi is first introduced as a bright reflection, framed within a mirror dominated by the Prince, a beautiful mise-en-scene that reflects their eternal relationship and the future of the family. The final act is a waltz of innuendo and ether, the callous and unrefined new generation flitting about, inbred and vapid, while the old men tell their war stories and talk politics. But the Prince realizes that to save the future he must accept change, and feeling the cold burden of death heavy upon his heart, he slowly disappears into that good night. (A)

message 2: by Phillip (last edited Jan 18, 2009 09:57AM) (new)

Phillip | 10605 comments Great review, Alex. Well done. Just enough info to hopefully peak the interest of this group without seeping SPOILERS all over the place.

This is such a great film. From the minute it starts you know you're watching a great work of classic cinema. The look and feel of the film balances the visceral and sublime - a Visconti trademark. Lancaster brings so much depth to the role, as does Delon (as you noted), you're completely sucked in to the world of the film - there's not much room to think the first time you see this movie - you're too busy engaging with the images and the storytelling to develop a dialogue with's one of those movies - you're kind of in a mild state of shock when it's all over and have to return to the real world.

Indeed, I've only seen it once on the big screen at a fairly recent Visconti retrospective, and the film warrants multiple viewings to fully appreciate all that exists in this bountiful feast. Thanks for writing about this film, Alex - I hope it inspires others to see it - anyone that loves movies will find something to celebrate about this one. I'm definitely inspired to see it again.

The Criterion edition, as Alex has noted, is an extended director's cut, and is the version you want to see. I rarely see the older "Americanized" version floating it's more than likely the one people will find at their local video stores is the fine Criterion version. Just look for the majestic portrait of Lancaster on the cover in a kind of sepia image...

message 3: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments Emily, I think it is the most beautiful film I've ever soon too! The luscious cinematography and period detail are astounding and the colors just pop from the screen. But it has substance beneath this golden veneer.

message 4: by Jean (new)

Jean Liota (gardenlady56) | 30 comments Brilliant film. Utterly brilliant. Haven't seen it in years, but I'm so glad to be reminded of it.

message 5: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 469 comments Just saw it for the first time in over 20 years.
Unfortunately I saw the dubbed American version. Now Im curious to see the longer Italian version.

I was intrigued by the beautiful imagery and rich attention to detail of every scene. Most American movies would have emphasized the beauty and ego of the actors, Visconti goes to extremes to show the really daunting task of traveling in a horse drawn broughm through dry dusty roads. No Holywood movie would ever show their actors in church covered with dust or grime.
The opening scene was mesmorizing. A slow closeup to the Prince's country residence, the atmosphere thick with the Sicilian mid day heat and the chanting of a rosary being recited, when its clear everyone's attention is directed at the commotion coming from the garden.
The whole movie is full of these wonderful slowly unfolding scenes.

Burt Lancaster does a wonderful job in the role of a man who knows his era is passing. Change is inevitable even in Sicily, supposedly good times and efficiency are the new orders of the day. The Prince knows human nature and he is not convinced.

message 6: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments I think it is worth the effort to watch the longer version, but give it time to sink in. I was hesitant to like Burt Lancaster at first but this is one of his best roles and he is very good; good to the point of disappearing into the character. Glad you liked it Manuel:)

message 7: by Phillip (last edited Jul 15, 2009 11:32PM) (new)

Phillip | 10605 comments I don't know, if you love movies, I think you will enjoy this movie. yeah, this a grand story. if you like a film like the godfather, you'll like this. I'm not saying this is a mafia movie, but I'm talking the level of storytelling.

message 8: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 469 comments Im still astounded at the shear detail of some scenes that are on the screen for a few seconds at best. At the Prince's country residence he is discussing the political situation with his priest/assistant in the office. Notice on the walls the stylized paintings of the Prince's properties and ancient holding in Sicily and Southern Italy.
At the party, we see the Prince in the men's wash room, he is tired and perhaps inpatient and anxious about the emerging era. He looks in the mirror while we can still hear the music from the ballroom. When he looks over his shoulder I was amazed to see dozens of full or almost full urinal urns. These little details would never appear in a Hollywood production. The entire movie is full of these little gems of reality in an unreal world.

message 9: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments yes, the Criterion DVD is a very good representation of the original film...but this needs a high-definition treatment because the detail is truly part of the theme and atmosphere (good point Manuel!).

message 10: by Bibliomantic (new)

Bibliomantic A fantastic, absorbing film. The historical narrative in the audio option is worth listening through. And that's saying quite a lot, if one takes the length of the film into account.

message 11: by Anna (last edited Jan 22, 2010 06:25PM) (new)

Anna (stregamari) It was a rich beautiful movie, the scenery almost pulls you away from the tense situations

message 12: by Sooz (new)

Sooz i just picked up the Criterion edition at my fav video store and am looking forward to watching it sometime this week.

message 13: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments Can't wait to read your thoughts:)

message 14: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10605 comments yeah, post a review, sooz!

message 15: by Sooz (last edited Feb 25, 2010 10:08AM) (new)

Sooz i am not a big fan of the epic. i have always been drawn to the details of a single afternoon rather than the sweeping outline of an era.

i am about halfway through The Leopard when i realize it isn't an epic, it just looks like one. visually it is huge. the long, wide-angled shots of the Italian landscape, cathedrals and palaces are magnificent. but i have sold The Leopard - and Mr. Visconte - short. i know exactly when i realize my mistake. it's when the prince, in explaining why he will not accept appointment to the senate, describes the Sicilian people and why they will not change.

i grew up and spent a good part of my adult life in northern Ontario, and i know how the geography of a place influences a people. all of Canada's population is about that of the state of California, and the majority of us live within a few hundred miles of the border with America. everything north of those few hundred miles is sparsely populated. northern Ontario is isolated, geographically rugged and it's winters harsh. we grow up there feeling proud of how tough we are. my father worked on and off in the mines, farmed and trapped to make a living. he was intensely proud, he was stubborn, and he thought he was God.

the prince knows what he is talking about.

i questioned the casting of Burt Lancaster in the lead role - at first. not that Lancaster isn't a fine actor (Elmer Gantry comes immediately to mind) but he is such an American actor. and then i questioned his character's calm and self-assured manner. he childes his wife for her fearfulness and maintains there is nothing to worry about. i question whether he is a fool to think he can be immune from what is to come. as Alex pointed out, the story begins with finding a dead soldier in the family's garden. change has come to their door, and the prince seems to be in denial about it.

i wait to see this change. to see history in the making. yes, there are street squirmishes, some damage to property, soldiers killed and citizens executed. yes, a new flag is adopted. still i wait to see the change.

the prince's solilique about the Sicilian people's immovablity indicates the truth of the situation, and his nephew's at the ball towards the end of the movie confirms it. the nephew who had actively fought for change is now part of established order and advocates squashing dissidents. when the prince's daughter says there was a time when he would not have spoke like that, Tancredi denies it.

two things came to my mind at this point.

first something Martha Gellhorn said. Gellhorn was a journalist and covered every major conflict from the Spanish Civil to the Viet Nam war. at the end of her career, someone asked what she had learned covering so much human conflict. she replied, 'the ends never justify the means, because it never ends'.

secondly the old adage - the more things change, the more they stay the same.

and this is what the prince knows, and what his nephew does not know. and that this contrast of what an old man knows and a young man does not - which is central to all of human history - is infused in this story, makes The Leopard more personally satisfying then what i had expected.

back to top