Wednesday 25 January 2023

The Leopard [1963]

 Luchino “Red Count” Visconti was defined by complex contradictions. On one hand he was an aristocrat, the son of a Duke and a Catholic, while on the other he was a Communist, member of the antifascist Resistance during Mussolini’s reign, a pathbreaker and a homosexual. He, in other words, represented the establishment and also defiantly rebelled against it. The Leopard – the lush, resplendent, sweeping, deeply ponderous tour de force and magnificently mounted 3-hour+ epic that’s considered as his greatest masterpiece – too beautifully evoked powerful opposing forces by portraying a proud nobleman’s reluctant acceptance of a new dawn upon realizing that “the times they’re a-changin’”, while lamenting the irrevocable passage of an era. The tumultuous and epochal transformations that Italy underwent during the Risorgimento around the 1860s was captured through Don Fabrizio (Burt Lancastar, in a display of commanding screen presence and majestic performance), an ageing Sicilian patriarch who epitomizes the old social order. Sensing that change is inevitable, he provides his blessings to his dashing nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon) – who he loves like his own son – when he joins Garibaldi’s Red Shirts and thereafter pursues political ambitions, though he doesn’t formally join this change himself. Rapturously cinematographed by Giuseppe Rotunno in vivid colours and marvellously scored by Nino Rota, this melancholic meditation on radical social upheavals and generational transformations boasted of two extraordinary set-pieces – a spectacularly staged battle scene, and an absolutely unforgettable 45-minute ballroom sequence orchestrated through breathtaking mise-en-scène, fastidious art decor and enthralling choreography. In an interesting anecdote, Lancastar, Delon and Claudio Cardinale, who played Tancredi’s gorgeous nouveau riche fiancée, couldn’t communicate with each other on the sets, and acted throughout in English, French and Italian, respectively.

Director: Luchino Visconti

Genre: Drama/Historical Drama/Epic

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

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