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THE LEOPARD

Italy, 1963 (MIFF 1984)

Director: Luchino Visconti

Until the Risorgimento of 1839 Italy had been a cluster of feudal monarchies propped up by the crumbling Austrian Empire. Within a few years Garibaldi's vanguard of "Red Shuts" landed in Sicily and worked their way northwards against scattered resistance.

In their wake sprang up new-found patriots; the formerly weak middle class expanded to fill the economic and political vacuum left by the nobility. Garibaldi's liberating army was disbanded and bourgeois democracy instituted its own systems of privilege and exploitation; Italy had become a modern State.

In the words of de Lampedusa's great novel, echoed in Viscomi's worthy cinematic version: "Things must change a little in order to remain the same". The leopard of the title is Don Fabrizio, Prince of Salina (Burt Lancaster), a characteristically blonde Bourbon noble whose domains are in ancient, sun-baked Sicily.

The great National upheaval is dramatically configured in the events affecting his family. The Prince himself is an exceptional embodiment of feudalism; dignified, benevolent, ironic, learned—he is an amateur astronomer of note, tolerant of human weakness and gently resistant of clerical interference in his affairs.

But-he is a man for whom the time is out of joint. He watches the bourgeoisie's miserable attempts to assume the trappings of nobility; whilst possessed of great qualities to help mould a new nation, he remains loyal to his class, which is now in historical eclipse. Sadly he declines an invitation to loin the new parliament:

"We were the lions and the leopards; those who take our place are wolves and jackals".

Visconti, the nobly-born Marxist, bent his full creauve powers to understanding the past in order to explain the present.

It might be argued that the combination of Rotunno's cinematography, Garbuglia's design, Tosi's costumes and Rota's music (including a previously unperformed waltz by Verdi) amount to the most artistically splendid production values ever to grace a motion picture. Visconti's images are equally expressive in pictorial scope, symbolic structure and minute behavioural detail.

If one sequence stands out, it is the spectacle of the Prince and it's family attending Mass in a village Church; as they sit in their pew still coated with the dust of the journey, the camera slowly tracks past them; in their rigid dignity they seem already to have been judged by history, as elegant and lifeless as the emblems of piety which surround them.

This version is in Italian language and the original Eastman Color Technirama process; it contains an additional 20 minutes deleted from the English language version previously seen in Australian Theatres and television.

See also...

LA TERRA TREMA

In 1947, Visconti went to Sicily with a small amount of capital advanced by the Communist Party, to make a film that expanded into a mammoth epic on the conditions of the poor workers and peasants of ... More »

SANDRA

After many years abroad, Sandra returns to her native town with her American husband, Andrew. They have come to attend the ceremony at which the family gardens are to be handed over to the city as a ... More »

OSSESSIONE

Luchino Visconti's first film was based on James Cain's thriller 'The Postman Always Rings Twice', which was also made into a French film in 1939, and was turned into the celebrated Hollywood movie ... More »

THE INTRUDER

The Intruder is based on D'Annunzio's book, The Innocent', transferred to the screen with minimal changes by Visconti. Set in the late 19th century, the plot tells of Tullio Hermil (Giancarlo ... More »

ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS

... ... Visconti sketched out the Idea for Rocc e i suoi fratelli(Rocco and his Brothers) in spring 1958 producer Franco Cristaldi. He worked on a treatment with Vasco Pratolini the novelist and Suso ... More »

Mr. Rossi Goes Skiing

The loveable little Italian cartoon character now tries his hand at the intricacies of winter sports - with the usual disastrous results. ... Special Award, Trento Festival. ... More »

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