Written by: Michael Den Boer on March 4th, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, 1974
Director: Luchino Visconti
Writers: Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Enrico Medioli, Luchino Visconti
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Helmut Berger, Silvana Mangano, Claudia Marsani, Stefano Patrizi, Romolo Valli, Claudia Cardinale, Dominique Sanda
DVD released:March 13th, 2012
Approximate running time: 121 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Raro Video
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.98
Synopsis: A retired American professors life is turned upside down, after he reluctantly agrees to rent the apartment above his to an affluent dysfunctional family and its mothers’ kept man.
Conversation Piece co-written and directed by Luchino Visconti, who along with Vittorio De Sica or Roberto Rossellini were the main driving forces behind Italian neo-realism cinema. Some of his more notable films include The Leopard and The Damned. Key collaborators on Conversation Piece include screenwriters Suso Cecchi D’Amico (Bicycle Thieves, Violent Summer) and Enrico Medioli (Rocco and His Brothers, Girl with a Suitcase), cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis (he was the cinematographer on four of Luchino Visconti’s last five theatrical feature films), editor Ruggero Mastroianni (The 10th Victim, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion) and composer Franco Mannino (The Ghost, Murder Obsession).
From the moment of his arrival in 1943, Luchino Visconti has been a filmmaker that has infused his films with themes that were near and dear to him. And in return many of his films have been singled out for the way in which they embrace controversy. With that being said, to simply say that he went out of his way to court controversy, would be a great disservice to the layers of rich subtext that pervade every film in his cinematic cannon. And while there are a few instances in which the use of subtext in his films comes off as heavy handed, for the most part it is done in such a subtle way that the majority of his films need multiple viewers for fully absorb all that is going on.
Thematically, Conversation Piece draws from many of the obsessions that time and again cropped up in his films, most notably decadent behavior and classism. Other themes that play an integral part to the story at hand include solitude and lack of communication. Right from the get go the film reinforces its message of ‘lack of communication’ by the way in which is shows that no matter how alike people look on the surface, that upon closer inspection they are actually greatly divided. It is also this examination of deception, that proves to be this films greatest asset.
Where the majority of Luchino Visconti’s are known for their grander, Conversation Piece was the antithesis, with the bulk of the film taking place in one location. And while limiting a film that is primarily dialog driven to one primary locations could have been a disaster. This decision actually proves to be an inspired one, since it reinforces all of this film main two main theme’s solitude and lack of communication. Also despite any aforementioned limitations due to lack of locations, there is actually a tremendous amount of visual substance on display throughout.
Being that this film is a dialog driven melodrama, it should not comes as a surprise that the performances in this film are exceptional. Performance wise this film is anchored by Burt Lancaster’s (The Leopard) in the role of the retired America professor. The film’s is told through the eyes of his character and he gives a utterly convincing performance that resonates long after the film’s haunting coda. Another performance of note is Helmut Berger (The Secret of Dorian Grey, Salon Kitty) in the role of flamboyant ‘kept man’, who’s mistress gets him the apartment above the retired America professor.
Raro Video presents Conversation Piece in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the film’s original aspect ratio. Colors look nicely saturated, flesh tones look healthy, black levels look very good, details look sharp and there are no problems with compression.
This release comes with one audio option, a Dolby Digital mono mix in English. Range wise this audio mix is rather limited. With that being said this is primarily a dialog driven film and dialog is always clear and the more ambient aspects of the soundtrack are well represented.
Extras for this release include a trailer for the film (3 minutes 46 seconds – anamorphic widescreen, in Italian with English subtitles) and a interview with film critic / screenwriter Alessandro Benccivenni (9 minutes 33 seconds – 4:3 full frame, in Italian with English subtitles), who gives a insightful analytical breakdown of Conversation Piece and its director Luchino Visconti. Also included with this release is slip cover that has different image, then the one used for the front cover art on the DVD and a sixteen page collectable booklet that comes with a lengthy essay about the film, a bio and filmogrpahy for Luchino Visconti. Overall Conversation Piece gets a first rate release from Raro Video.