The Leopard (1963)

Director:  Luchino Visconti
Cast:  Burt LancasterAlain Delon, Claudia Cardinale
Plot:  The Prince of Salina, a noble aristocrat of impeccable integrity, tries to preserve his family and class amid the tumultuous social upheavals of 1860's Sicily.

Genre:  Drama / History 
Awards:  Won Palme d'Or (Cannes).  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Costume Design
Runtime:  187min
Rating:  PG

We're not blind in spirit, Father. We're just human beings in a changing world.

Widely regarded as Luchino Visconti’s finest achievement as a film director, The Leopard (also known as II Gattopardo) quite rightly deserves the critical acclaim it has accrued since its release in 1963.

A period piece set in the mid-1800s Sicily where political and social upheavals were threatening to overwhelm the established aristocratic order, The Leopard accounts for the tumultuous events that foreshadow the decline of aristocracy in Italy. At three hours in length, the film is distinctively broken into three parts, with the final act most unforgettable.

The film unfolds from the perspective of Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Burt Lancaster), a man who with his mannerism and speech exemplifies the ideals that aristocrats seek. Yet he remains uniquely pragmatic, understanding the fact that his caste would one day lose their power and influence. He knows that day is nearing, bringing his entire family to a safer location in search for peace and security.

The first part of the film introduces us to its numerous characters. After which, they transit to a new place that would not only become the setting for the second act, but also marking the first appearance of arguably the silver screen’s most beautiful woman – Claudia Cardinale.

Cardinale plays Angelica, the daughter of a local mayor who is about to be married to Prince Salina’s nephew. The moment she appears on screen, there is no reason not to let out a soft gasp. She steals the screen with her breathtaking beauty, transfixing us every second she is on.

Visconti tempts us by using Cardinale sparingly in the second act, but he fully unveils her beauty in a glorious white wedding gown in the last act – a grandeur party only for the very, very rich that makes up the film’s last hour.

This is where Visconti is admired greatly for his direction. With economical editing and a moving camera, the whole act immerses us, for better or worse, into the lives of these people as they have sumptuous dinner, dress in elaborate costumes, and dance with partners in waltzes.

Such is the extraordinary opulence that it remains a wonder how Visconti managed to convince his financial backers to cough up enough dough to not only pay for the expensive props and lights, but also the hundreds of extras and their elaborate costumes.

There are several moments of lengthy dialogue in The Leopard that may bore viewers, but most of the film remains oddly humorous, especially of the relationship between Prince Salina and Father Pirrone (Romolo Valli), a bubbly priest who lives with his family.

Nino Rota’s lush, strings-heavy score fades in and out like a soft, gentle wind, accompanying the primarily bright cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno. While I rate Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975) as the pinnacle of the epic costume drama genre, The Leopard is no less a masterpiece from one of Italy’s greatest directors.

Verdict:  Visconti's magnum opus and quite simply one of the greatest films of all-time.


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*Last viewing - Mar 2018




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