Il Gattopardo

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(The Leopard)

Italy-France, 1962

Director: Luchino Visconti

Production: Titanus (Rome)/SN Pathe-Cinema (Paris)/SGC (Paris); DeLuxe color (original version: Technicolor); CinemaScope (original version: Technirama); running time: 184 minutes (British version 161 minutes), original running time: 205 minutes. Dubbed. Released 1962.

Producer: Goffredo Lombardo; executive producer: Pietro Notarianna; screenplay: Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Massimo Franciosa, Enrico Medioli, Luchino Visconti, from the novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa; assistant directors: Rinaldo Ricci, Albino Cocco, Francesco Massaro, Brad Fuller; dialogue director: Archibald Colquhoun; photography: Giuseppe Rotunno; editor: Mario Serandrei; sound: Mario Messina; art director: Mario Garbuglia; costumes: Piero Tosi; music: Nino Rota.

Cast: Burt Lancaster (Don Fabrizio, Prince of Salina); Alain Delon (Tancredi); Claudia Cardinale (Angelica Sedara); Paolo Stoppa (Don Calogera Sedara); Rina Morelli (Maria Stella); Serge Reggiana (Don Ciccio Tumeo); Romolo Valli (Father Pirrone); Leslie French (Chevally); Ivo Garrani (Colonel Pallavicino); Mario Girotti (Count Cavriaghi); Pierre Clementi (Francesco Paolo); Lucilla Morlacchi (Concetta); Giuliano Gemma (The Garibaldino General); Ida Galli (Carolina); Ottavia Piccolo (Caterina); Carlo Valenzano (Paolo); Anna Maria Bottini (Mlle. Dombreuil); Marino Mase (Tutor); Lola Braccini (Donna Margherita); Howard N. Rubien (Don Diego).



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* * *

Only in recent years has it been at all possible to appreciate Il gattopardo in Britain and the United States, where the film was originally released in a hideously mutilated version rightly disowned by Visconti. Twentieth Century-Fox, who had co-financed the film with the Italian company Titanus, cut it from 206 to 161 minutes, printed it on DeLuxe as opposed to the original Technicolor stock (resulting in a look both muddy and garish), and substituted a crudely dubbed American soundtrack for the carefully prepared Italian original. The version now in circulation respects all of Visconti's original intentions, the running time of 186 minutes being the length to which Visconti finally cut his film.

Il gattopardo is based on the novel of the same name written by the Sicilian Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and published in 1958. Like Visconti's earlier Senso it is set at the time of the Risorgimento, only here the setting is Sicily and the action takes place against the background of Garibaldi's expedition to Sicily to depose the Bourbon kingdom of Francis II and to unite the island with Italy. The film focuses on the Salina family, at the head of which stands Prince Fabrizio, who stands aloof from the whole Garibaldi affair, seeing it as little more than a change of dramatis personae in the same old play. However, his nephew Tancredi Falconeri joins Garibaldi's army and becomes an officer in the army of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. He also falls in love with Angelica, the daughter of Don Calogero Sedara, a former peasant who has risen to the rank of mayor of Donnafugata, where Prince Salina has his summer residence. Not only is she beautiful but also very rich, and Tancredi needs her money if he is to fulfil his political ambitions, since his family, though aristocratic, are relatively impecunious. Conscious of the decline of his class, Prince Salina asks Don Calogero for the hand of his daughter on Tancredi's behalf and the film climaxes in a sumptuous ball for the noble society of Palermo at which the young couple are officially "introduced" to the social world.

The central, overriding theme of Il gattopardo, like Senso, is "trasformismo," neatly encapsulated by the opportunistic Tancredi in the words "if we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change." What the film presents is the gradual submergence and transformation of a noble Italian family; as Geoffrey Nowell-Smith puts it, "the bourgeoisie marry into the aristocracy and the Byronic aristocrat sinks gently into bien-pensant mediocrity as the revolutionary storm subsides." The truly remarkable ball scene, which takes up about one-third of the film's length and involves some 200 people in 14 interconnected rooms, is not simply an incredible directorial tour-de-force; rather it decisively marks the transition from the tired, old nobility represented by Prince Salina to the thrusting ambition of the new ruling class represented by Don Calogero. Burt Lancaster's performance during this extended climax to the film is nothing short of remarkable, as is Visconti's consummate skill in blending the various intimate, personal dramas within the wider mise-en-scène. As in the rest of the film only Prince Salina seems fully aware of what is happening to his class, and as the sumptuous festivities continue he assumes an expression of increasing disgust and melancholy, at one moment pointedly studying a painting entitled The Death of the Just. However, his nobility and dignity never desert him, and, when Angelica invites him to waltz with her, his awareness of her youth and beauty eclipses his sadness for a moment and, in an extraordinarily moving scene, he symbolically hands over power with grace and pride.

Il gattopardo is dominated almost equally by the presence of Prince Salina and the Sicilian landscape. At one point, in conversation with a member of the Piedmontese aristocracy, Prince Salina argues that in Sicily "the environment, the climate, the landscape" all militate against change, and Visconti perfectly captures the feeling of the long, oppressively hot, sleep-inducing Sicilian summers that the original novel describes so evocatively.

—Julian Petley