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Film Details

Directed by: Luchino Visconti

Produced: 1963

Countries & Regions: France, Italy, Japan

DVD Details

Certificate: PG

Studio: British Film Institute

Length: 178 mins

Format: DVD

Region: Region 2

Released: 27 September 2004

Cat No: BFIVD595

Extras:
Anamorphic (16:9)
Languages(s): Italian
Hard of Hearing Subtitles: English
Subtitles: English
Interactive Menu

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The Leopard

Cast: Alain Delon , Burt Lancaster , Claudia Cardinale , Serge Reggiani , Pierre Clementi , Paolo Stoppa , Romolo Valli , Rina Morelli , Lucilla Morlacchi , Ottavia Piccolo

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Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale star in Luchino Visconti’s epic story of the fortunes which befall one aristocratic... Read More

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Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale star in Luchino Visconti’s epic story of the fortunes which befall one aristocratic family during the 1860s, at the time of the unification of Italy. Prince Fabrizio Salina (Lancaster) realises that times are changing when his war-hero nephew Tancredi (Delon) starts courting Angelica (Cardinale), the beautiful daughter of the town’s middle-class mayor. When asked to grant his approval for their marriage, he agrees, even though it confirms everything he dreads and despises about the rise of the bourgeoisie. The celebrated ball sequence, which lasts for much of the film’s last quarter, is often credited as one of the most oppulent scenes in cinema history. The film was digitally restored in 2010 and it took over 12,000 hours of manual restoration to remove years of dirt and audio pollution.

Arguably Visconti’s masterpiece, The Leopard’s reputation as an important work had been severely damaged by 20th Century Fox. Despite winning the Palme D’or at Cannes and receiving critical acclaim in Europe, Fox inexplicably and comprehensively hacked into the film, releasing a shorter, dubbed version. Now restored to its majestic self, Visconti’s epic has seen its worth re-evaluated and its stock rise; with good reason. There is much to admire.

The film follows the decline of the Sicilian aristocracy during the Risorgimento; the Republican revolution in Italy which took place in the 1860s; and a story not too dissimilar from Visconti’s own family history. Born Count Don Luchino Visconti Di Morone, his aristocratic upbringing was to be a strange bedfellow with his Marxist leanings, prompting Salvador Dali to spit: ‘He was a Communist who only liked luxury’.

It is this dichotomy which fascinates, giving Visconti’s work a sense of melodrama, which, coupled with his acute and instinctive storytelling ability, provides The Leopard with a strong resonance. The Leopard of the title is Prince Salina (Lancaster) whose fortunes are in decline. The Prince arranges a marriage between his nephew, Tancredi (Delon) and Angelica, (Cardinale) daughter of the rich merchant Don Calogero, who will bring a handsome dowry into the family. Eventually, the Prince is offered a seat in the newly formed Senate, but can’t bring himself to have anything to do with the new ruling order. The film builds to its climax; an awesome Ball scene which still has few peers, in which Angelica makes a successful society debut and the Prince becomes all the more contemplative as he faces the realisation that the old order and world he knows is over.

It is Lancaster’s movie, a performance that is understated and infused with a dignity which runs through his character like a watermark. Lancaster allegedly based his character on Visconti himself, although how much truth is in this is debatable. Visconti’s treatment of Lancaster on set was reportedly abysmal and there was no love lost between them. Delon was no stranger to appearances in Italian movies at this time (L’Eclisse, Rocco and his Brothers) and was a favourite leading man of Visconti’s, his good looks appealing to the bi-sexual director. Delon turns in a typically brooding performance here and the screen adores him. Claudia Cardinale never really attained the status of a true movie great but has enduring popularity, suffering perhaps from the fact that her looks tended to overshadow her ability. In The Leopard, Cardinale gives a spirited, almost gritty performance, most memorably in the scene where she disgraces herself at dinner.

The Leopard is ultimately the moment when Visconti’s art and philosophies come together. The film ruminates on the timeless theme of old against new, of the moment where change is at its most radical and shocking and acceptance of it would somehow be a betrayal to the way things were, regardless of the benefits that those changes might bring. Visconti was a man that could acknowledge the need for change in the world around him whilst reject the ‘vulgarity’ that illustrated the the differences between the present and past. It is this humanist streak that makes The Leopard a timeless and compelling piece of cinema.

At last it’s available on DVD! Visconti's beautiful and powerful drama, long available only in a cut and truncated form, receives a welcome restoration. Visconti's adaptation of di Lampedusa’s classic novel is one of the director’s great movies, although it’s been hard to judge in the version we’ve been able to see until now. It’s hard to think that the three principal actors were all acting in their own languages (Burt Lancaster, English, Alain Delon, French and Claudia Cardinal, Italian), so unified is the final effect (wisely, Italian has been chosen as the default language). The only question is: why have we had to wait so long for this restoration?

Not so much of a review, just a comment. While it would be churlish not greet the reconstruction of Luchino Visconti's 'The Leopard' to its proper length, why, oh why, has Burt Lancaster's consummately restrained dialogue been replaced with a desperately inferior Italian overdubbing. OK, so it was originally an Italian film, but let's face it, for many of us Lancaster and Alain Delon spoke more authoritatively in English. For me this re-issue is still a flawed masterpiece.

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