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The Leopard (1963)

The Leopard.jpg

We were the leopards, the lions, those who take our place will be jackals and sheep, and the whole lot of us – leopards, lions, jackals and sheep – will continue to think ourselves the salt of the earth. As Garibaldi’s troops begin the unification of Italy in the 1860s, an aristocratic Sicilian family grudgingly adapts to the sweeping social changes undermining their way of life. The proud but pragmatic (yet feline) Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina (Burt Lancaster) allows his fickle war hero (who changes sides) nephew, Tancredi (Alain Delon), to marry Angelica (Claudia Cardinale), the beautiful daughter of gauche, bourgeois Don Calogero Sedara (Paolo Stoppa) in order to maintain the family’s accustomed level of comfort and political clout when the fighting approaches their summer home in Sicily but the Prince is himself enchanted with her …  Adapted from Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s masterful novel by director Luchino Visconti and Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Enrico Mediloi, Pasquale Festa Campanile and Massimo Franciosa, rarely have the obsessions of a novelist coincided so fortuitously with those of a filmmaker. The Marxist aristocrat Visconti had an intimate acquaintance with the notion of a society in transition and the magnificent central performance by Lancaster anchors the affect in nuance and specificity as he questions his identity and relevance.  The battle scenes that open the film are sunny, stunning and violent, shot almost entirely wide which gives them an appropriately epic quality. The final forty-five minute ball sequence during which the Prince dances with Angelica and Tancredi and the Prince’s daughters look on in variously anguished forms is tantalising:  there are shot choices that make you squeal with delight, almost as gloriously as Cardinale’s devastating laughter at the dinner table. Was there ever a more beautiful or seductive couple than Delon and Cardinale, reunited after Rocco and His Brothers? Not a lot happens:  the Prince realises his way of life (‘leopards and lions’) is changing and he is experiencing history as it unfolds. He discusses his ridiculous marriage with his priest Father Pirrone (Romolo Valli);  he observes a rigged plebiscite;  goes on holiday and a picnic;  hunts;  arranges Tancredi’s marriage to Angelica; walks home from the ball in the early hours of the morning and recognises the shabbiness of the decaying district over which he presides. The novel is wonderful and it is shocking to realise Di Lampedusa died before he could see it become a phenomenon in 1958. A magnificent, bewitching, bittersweet film adaptation made when cinema was great with an immersive score by Nino Rota that perfectly encapsulates a world in love with death. For the ages. We’re just human beings in a changing world.

About elainelennon

An occasional movie-watching diary.

3 responses to “The Leopard (1963)

  1. ozflicks

    I’ve not seen much Visconti, I hate to admit. Despite loving Death in Venice when I was about 19 and going through ‘an Italian phase’ from 75-85, somehow the rest of his oeuvre swept by me in the flood of Antonionis and Fellinis and De Sicas and Bertoluccis and Rosellinis and Tavianis and Wertmullers, so that when the endless recycling of ‘classic euro-cinema’ at local indie cinemas and on free-to-air finished in Sydney in the early 90s it seemed a chore to track down all the oldies. Plus I have a bit of a ‘thing’ against Mr Lancaster for some reason, despite liking him in a few films like Atlantic City (I think it was his smugness and The Swimmer that did it). So I did not see Il Gattopardi until about 10 years ago when it came out on DVD down under. It’s a wonderful epic – very Italian, stylish, humane, intense, tragic. Why did it take me so long?

    • You can’t see everything. It’s not possible. If you get a chance try to see SENSO – very lush and operatic (I know that’s an overused adjective with V, but it’s true) and just stunning to look at. These are not easy films to find. The BBC was my godhead for movies for years. The proliferation of movie channels ironically makes the really great films harder to find. The Italians are astonishing – I’m lost to midcentury movies. Perhaps it’s their history of division and conflict and constant remaking of their identities. Whatever it was, they had it going on. Sigh.

      • ozflicks

        The Italians made some amazing films back then, and then sort of lost it by the 80s. 1900, Kaos (by the Tavianis) and Tree of the Wooden Clogs were three of my fav Italian flicks, but there are so many really. I’ll try to find Senso, if I can. Thanks

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