director Luchino Visconti
I’m willing to guess that the average American who goes into Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard probably doesn’t have the historical background with them for context. Maybe that is true for the average anybody of a non-Italian background and maybe even includes some Italians as well.
It takes place mostly in 1860-1861 and deals with the Italian Risorgimento, a period in which Italy became the unified state of modern times. It’s an interesting point that I’ve noted in the histories of other European countries that our modern, contemporary sense of European statehood contains false notions that these identities go back centuries. Rather, the Europe prior to the 19th century was one of smaller principalities with unique character that were only “unified”.
It’s not so much that you need to know this going in, but it would help making some sense of who’s who and what the significance of the story is. It’s still very engaging, throughout, an epic of 19th century style though crafted in the 20th century. The Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa novel upon which it was based was only published in 1958, though you would be forgiven for thinking it a companion of sorts to epics of other 19th century historical novels. It’s considered one of the most important 20th century Italian novels.
Visconti’s film is vivid, gorgeous, and meticulous. The details of the period and the space within the rooms of the large sets and mansions offer a sense of depth and a “verity”(?) so amazingly compelling (I question verity only that I don’t know how true it really is, but it’s convincing nonetheless).
Even at this high-budget, much more Hollywood styled drama, we also have the typical Italian post-production sound and so, even watching it in the Italian, you’ve got dubbing. It’s the kind of flaw you often overlook in a Spaghetti Western or Giallo, and even here over three hours you get used to it. It’s still odd in a production of this height and quality. Because this is a seriously beautiful and slick production.
For me, it’s my first Vicsonti film, and it’s one that I’ve been meaning to see for a decade. As long as I’ve held it in interest, I went in knowing only its length and that it starred Burt Lancaster, little else.
It’s an amazingly well-composed film, and the final third of the film, set during a dance, is really something to see. Speaking of something to see: Claudia Cardinale (va-va-va-voom!)
Pretty impressive stuff.