7:30 PM, Thursday October 14 &  5.45PM, SAT OCT 16

Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick

Introduced by Vincent Giarrusso (Thurs) and Rolando Caputo (Sat)

Director: Luchino Visconti
Country: Italy
Year: 1963
Runtime: 185 minutes
Rating: PG

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“One of the films I live by” — Martin Scorsese

Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1963, Luchino Visconti’s revered film has gone through many tribulations at the hands of distributors and exhibitors keen to cut it down to size and remove its Italian-language soundtrack. It was not until Scorsese’s Film Foundation restored the film in 2010, thanks to a grant of $900,000 from the Gucci Foundation, that many first saw the complete film – a majestic tale of a Sicilian prince passively resisting the 1848 revolution. Based on Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s celebrated novel, the 4K restoration brings out every detail of the sumptuous production design, every glorious costume and every facial expression with a clarity previously unknown.  Remarkable performances by Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon. The near hour-long ball scene which concludes the film is its own epic depiction of a society whose end is near.  

Presented in a new 4K digital restoration by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, funded by the Gucci Foundation.

“One of the greatest achievements of Italian cinema.” — David Stratton
Watch Margaret and David talk about the restoration of The Leopard →

Cinema Reborn is grateful for the support of the Istituto Italiano Di Cultura in the presentation of The Leopard (Il Gattopardo).

Film Notes by Rod Bishop:

Luchino Visconti
Luchino Visconti was born in Milan to one of Europe’s oldest aristocratic families. He directed 14 feature films, 40 plays and 12 operas. The plays included work by Cocteau, Sartre, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. The operas included four with Maria Callas — La T raviata, La Sonnambula, Anna Bolena and Iphigenia in Tauris.

His full name was Count Luchino Visconti di Modrone, Count of Loate Pozzolo and he came from a family branch of the old Viscontis of Milan. His father was the Duke Giuseppe Visconti di Modrine, Count of Lonate Pozzolo. His mother was Carla Erba, heiress to Erba Pharmaceuticals.

Biographer Monica Sterling observed: “…a child like Luchino Visconti, with ancestors still moving in tapestries all around him, is born with a sense of history’s continuity into a world of vast imaginative dimensions, full of communicative ghosts with familiar faces.(1)

As an adult, however, Visconti wasn’t content with any immutable continuity of history. He had experienced a political “road to Damascus” at the age of 29 when working in France as an assistant director to Jean Renoir on Toni (1935).

I started to get close to the communists in 1936…I did not know anything about communism and Marxism. I did not know anything about politics. But there was in France the Popular Front and all my friends were enlisted in the Communist Party. They clarified my ideas.”(2)

Visconti became that unique combination of Marxist and aristocrat and he maintained a long association with the Italian communist party. Some believe his politics motivated the neo-realism of his earlier work and his first film Ossessione (1942) is often cited as the beginning of that influential Italian film movement, although there were many detractors: “After the first showing” said Visconti “an Archbishop came to bless the room.

During World War II, he joined the Italian Resistenza, helping hide allied soldiers and partisans and was once arrested and imprisoned by the Fascists who found a gun in his pocket. He evaded all attempts to give up the names of his collaborators.

Inspired by the Marxist writer Antonio Gramsci, his second feature La Terra Trema (1948), is a neo-realist account of a Sicilian fishing family who revolt against their exploitation by city traders. It even starts with a title “un racconto d’impianto sociale” – “the story of a social system”. Lino Miccichè called it the only great Marxist film of Neorealismo.(3)

Greeted by whistles and insults at the Venice Film Festival, Francesco Rosi reported the reaction of the middle-class public to La Terra Trema was against a ‘bourgeois’ (Visconti) who had betrayed his class.(4)

Salvador Dali has remarked: “He was a communist who only liked luxury”.

Visconti’s film career started with neo-realism, then moved towards heightened theatrical melodrama and concluded in operatic effusion. His work included a four-hour film on the life of Ludwig II of Bavaria (Ludwig, 1973); a psychosexual treatise on Nazism (The Damned, 1967); literary adaptations from Dostoyevsky (White Nights, 1957), Albert Camus (The Stranger, 1967), Thomas Mann (Death in Venice, 1971), James M. Cain (Ossessione, 1942) and two films about Italian unification in the 1860s (Senso, 1954; The Leopard, 1963).

From the Venice Film Festival, Visconti was awarded the Golden Lion for Sandra (1965), the Silver Lion for White Nights (1957) and the Grand Jury Prize for Rocco and his Brothers (1960).

The Leopard won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1963.

The Film
Sicily, 1860.

There’s a dead soldier in the garden of the sumptuous Sicilian palazzo belonging to the aristocratic Salina family.

The Prince of Salina, Don Fabrizio (Burt Lancaster) has just learned of the invading Garibaldi army. The Red Shirts have landed and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies is destined for annexation. It’s the beginning of the Second War of Independence for the unification of Italy — the Risorgimento.

The Prince of Salina is aware his opulent and privileged way of life is threatened, maybe ending. The growing bourgeoisie is challenging the old feudal aristocracy and although distraught, the Prince chooses to spectate rather than participate in the changing world around him.

His nephew Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon), elects to join the Garibaldini and fights in the Battle of Palermo, rising to the rank of officer. In Donnafugata, at the Salinas’ summer retreat, the rapid rise of Don Calogero Sedàra (Paolo Stoppa), a previously uneducated plebeian, but now a wealthy bourgeois and the local mayor, gives the Prince of Salina real evidence of the forces reshaping his life:

“We were the Leopards, the Lions; those who take our place will be jackals, hyenas and the whole lot of us, Leopards, jackals and sheep, we’ll all go on thinking ourselves the salt of the earth.”

Tancredi, whose family is bankrupt, has fallen for Don Calogero’s daughter Angelica (Claudia Cardinale). He is entranced as much by her beauty as he is by her dowry. The Prince, aware of securing Tancredi’s financial future, encourages their union and asks Don Calogera for her hand in marriage to his nephew.

The screenplay is an adaptation of the only novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the last Prince of Lampedusa. Born in Palermo, Sicily, his father was the Duke Giulio Maria Tomasi, Prince of Lampedusa, Baron of Torretta, Grandee of Spain and his mother was Beatrice Mastrogiovanni Tasca Filangieri di Cutò.

When he died in 1957, Lampedusa’s novel The Leopardhad been rejected by several publishers. It was finally released, to great acclaim, one year after his death.

For all the film’s epic glory, its historical sweep and its sensuous production design, the events in The Leopard live mostly inside the mind of the Prince of Salina.

And here, Burt Lancaster is just majestic. For three hours, as he struggles against a world now threatening his very concept of nobility, Lancaster captivates the audience with his portrayal of the Prince and his stature, his self-importance, his love of science and astronomy, his bittersweet philosophizing, his reserve, his vigor, his social graces and his erudite dignity.

It’s an intimate portrait of an aristocrat for whom family, culture and status means all, but also a man spiritually lost and grieving the decay of nobility.

Whether simply shuffling a pack of cards or gliding elegantly across a ballroom floor before musing alone about his mortality, Lancaster gives the performance of his career as the Prince of Salina.

A profound and moving film, it’s also a vivid portrait of intellect, beauty and history. The concluding 45-minute ballroom scene is both rapturous and mesmerizing, one of the finest set pieces in the history of the cinema. A divine ending to one of the greatest films to ever grace the screen. It’s Visconti’s apotheosis. His masterpiece. 

The Restoration
When The Leopard opened in the United States and Australia in 1963, nearly 30 minutes had been removed by 20th Century Fox; the image had been trimmed top and bottom; the prints were degraded by the inferior DeLuxe colour process; and all the actors had been dubbed into English.

There have been various restorations during the past 50 years and this latest 4K digital restoration was funded to the tune of $900,000 by the Gucci Foundation and was supervised by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation. Laboratory restoration was done by Sony’s Colorworks Digital Facility through a partnership involving Cineteca di Bologna’s L’Immagine Ritrovata, The Film Foundation, Pathé, Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, Twentieth Century Fox and Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia-Cineteca Nazionale.

Finally seeing restorations of the complete film, critics lavished praise:

One of the greatest motion pictures of all time, as well as one of the most politically profound.” — Andrew Sarris, The New York Observer, 13 January 2005

The greatest film of its kind made since World War II.” — J Hoberman, Village Voice, 10 August 2004

One of the greatest achievements of Italian cinema.” — David Stratton, SBS, 1 January 2009

“Few films can hold a candle to The Leopard…one of those rare almost perfect pristine works of the cinema…Visconti at the height of his stylistic mastery…” — Adrian Martin,, October 1997/December 2004

Every frame of this film is an artwork…gorgeous to see in all its glory, incredibly moving…” — Margaret Pomeranz, SBS, 1 January 2009

“The feeling at the end of this masterpiece -- a profound meditation on mortality, really -- is so pitch-perfect and conveys so many complexities at a very simple level that The Leopard has become one of the greatest of all epics.” — G. Allen Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle, 10 September 2004

“Written by the only man who could have written it, directed by the only man who could have directed it and stars the only man who could have played its title character”. — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, 1 October 2003

1. Monica Sterling, A Screen of Time: A Study of Luchino Visconti, Hardcourt Brace, 1979, (quoted in   R.T.Witcombe, The New Italian Cinema, Secker and Warburg, 1982)

2. Costanzo Coletti, L’utimo Visconti, Milan, Sugar Co Edizioni, 1976 (quoted in Claretta Tonetti, Luchino Visconti, Columbus books, London, 1983)

3. Quoted in Witcombe, ibid

4. Quoted in Tonetti, ibid

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