Written by: Johan Fundin on June 3rd, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: 28th March 1963, Italy.
Director: Luchino Visconti.
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, Rina Morelli, Paolo Stoppa, Terence Hill
DVD released: September 27th, 2004
Approximate running time: 178 minutess
Aspect ratio: 2.21:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Italian
DVD Release: BFI Video Publishing
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £16.97
“One of the films I live by.” – Martin Scorsese
If there exist anything such as perfect movies, then The Leopard is one. Acclaimed filmmaker Luchino Visconti (Don Luchino Visconti di Modrone) (1906-1976) worked in the field of neo-realism and drama in his early career before he turned to depictions of European aristocratic decline and the rise of the bourgeoisie in the period 1860-1935, visualized in some of the best-looking colour films the world has ever seen. Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) – the Palme d’Or winner at Cannes in 1963 – is Visconti’s masterpiece, a film so beautiful that every self-respecting cinema lover, regardless genre interest, must see it.
The story in The Leopard, based on the novel Il Gattopardo by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, is set in Sicily in 1860-62 at a time of revolution. Giuseppe Garibaldi and his red-shirted army disembark on the island to put an end to the power of nobility. The rising bourgeoisie want land, an established position in society and the power overall but the revolutionary action ends in compromises. Prince Fabrizio Salina (Lancaster) – a pragmatic noble – and his nephew Tancredi Falconeri (Delon) realise that they can survive by negotiating with the bourgeoisie and by making concessions. At Donnafugata, his summer residence, Prince Salina witnesses the ascent of Don Calogero Sedara (Stoppa), an uneducated peasant who has risen to power through hard work and by making political connections.
Don Sedara’s wonderful daughter Angelica (Cardinale) combines her beauty with an education received at a boarding school in Florence and, naturally a very rich dowry. The Prince invites Don Sedara for lunch to discuss politics and to establish good relations, and Tancredi’s interest in the gorgeous Angelica is constantly increasing. Eventually, the Prince asks Sedara for the hand of his daughter on Tancredi’s behalf, and the young couple is introduced to the noble society of Palermo at a lavish ball. Happy about the success of Tancredi and Angelica, the Prince is also bitterly aware of the end of his class and the end of his youth. The film ends showing his loneliness and isolation.
Every frame in The Leopard looks like a glossy 19th-Century expressionistic painting. Visconti’s unique visual splendour – the elaborate production designs, beautiful compositions and operatic rythm that define his cinema – is perfected in the 45-minute ballroom sequence, one of the most famous set pieces in movie history. Visconti’s orchestration is superb and his use of colours and lighting is extraordinary, sumptuous, breathtaking.
Special note to Dario Argento fans: Look out for Tenebrae actor Giuliano Gemma in a small role as Garibaldi’s General.
Previously shown to the world in various butchered editions, Visconti’s masterpiece is now available for the first time on DVD and in its complete and uncut version, with fully restored picture and sound. The British Film Institute mention the Criterion Collection in the list of acknowledgements on their R2 PAL disc so presumably it is the same restored print that has been used for both releases. The new resoration was created from the film’s glorious 70mm negative elements held in Technicolor laboratories in London and Rome, and was overseen by the film’s director of photography Giuseppe Rotunno.Shot in ravishing Technicolor and Technirama, the film is presented in its original 2.21:1 widescreen aspect ratio.
The original Italian mono soundtrack has been provided and it comes with English subtitles. The audio is free of any sound defects and dialog is easy to follow.
Extras include full feature commentary by David Forgacs (Professor of Italian and Head of the Department of Italian, University College London), interview with Claudia Cardinale who talks about the differencies in working for Visconti and Fellini respectively. There is also a director biography and a trailer.
The films of Visconti were even more operatic than those of Sergio Leone. His parallel career as theatre and opera director strongly influenced his cinematic work and brought theatrical parameters such as actor positioning, a thorough and accurate attention to mise-en-scène, and the use of music as a structuring variable. The Leopard is a tour-de-force of operatic grandeur and a milestone in cinema.