Sunday, January 18, 2009

THE LEOPARD: ITALIAN VERSION (Luchino Visconti, 1963, Italy) Prince Don Fabrizio Salina is the graceful feline, the anachronistic aristocracy who senses the winds of change eroding his way of life, winds that carry the putrid stench of revolution as the jackals congregate around the carrion spoils of war. Luchino Visconti’s beautiful and luscious film is imbued with grandeur, creating an epic tale of one man’s spiritual sacrifice to ensure a stable future for his family and heirs. Interesting that Visconti chose an American (Burt Lancaster) and a Frenchman (Alain Delon) to represent Italian characters whose pragmatic dichotomy is the lifeblood of the film. Lancaster’s performance is exceptional; he is emotionally reserved but not cold, he is a Prince but not unkind to the plebeian, he is head of the family but generous: he brings a subtle and charming elegance to his role. Alain Delon plays the zealous nephew and heir to the Prince’s fortunes; Delon doesn’t resort to caricature and invests his role with a benign virtue both believable and empathetic. Visconti lets the story unfold deliberately: from the hollow drone of a catholic prayer to a dead soldier in the courtyard, the sheltered life of the Prince’s family must swim or drown in the undertow of sea change. Tancredi is first introduced as a bright reflection, framed within a mirror dominated by the Prince, a beautiful mise-en-scene that reflects their eternal relationship and the future of the family. The final act is a waltz of innuendo and ether, the callous and unrefined new generation flitting about, inbred and vapid, while the old men tell their war stories and talk politics. But the Prince realizes that to save the future he must accept change, and feeling the cold burden of death heavy upon his heart, he slowly disappears into that good night. (A)

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