Region 2 (UK) Edition reviewed by Mark Frost
Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale
1860. Sicily’s aristocracy, represented by the ageing Don
Fabrizio - the Prince of Salina (Burt Lancaster), watch in dismay as they
begin to lose their hold on money, power and influence to the rising
the time of the Regisorgimento – a social upheaval when the aristocracy
was overturned by the lower classes to create a unified Italy.
Fabrizio’s nephew, Tancredi (Alain Delon) leaves to fight for the rebels
led by Garibaldi.
Prince sees a way to rescue his position by marrying his nephew to
Angelica Sedara (Claudia Cardinale), the daughter of an ever more
important nouveau riche figurehead in the new regime.
Assured of his ongoing standing in the changing political climate, the
Prince stands back to witness the passing of an era.
Director Luchino Visconti was perfectly placed to tell this story. Even
though he was publicly a socialist, Visconti came from a privileged
background and must have been drawn to the novel for the parallels with
his own life.
bring his alter ego to the screen, Visconti settled on Burt
Lancaster. The American distributor insisted on having a US star to sell
on its home soil. Lancaster is a superb actor, capable of displaying
dignity, pathos and incredible inner strength. Visconti directs Lancaster
to the performance of his career in The Leopard – using our
pre-conceptions of the actors’ strength and physicality to show the
Prince’s loss of power to maximum effect.
from the popular novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the film is often
seen as the Italian Gone With The Wind. The Leopard is a
much more complex story, with the great scope and ambition leaving little
room for melodrama. Visconti wisely inserts into the first portion a
vivid, frenetic battle scene. This scene gives the audience a visual
reference to assign the struggle that is continually alluded to. Although
not in the book, it gives the film a boost of energy to carry it to the
remainder of the cast are equally impressive, notably the always reliable
Alain Delon, and - in another career best – Claudia Cardinale.
Visually the film looks amazing. According to the producers, Visconti
spared no expense on the décor and details of every element of the film.
From the insistence of shooting on location to fresh flowers on set
everyday, the budget was quickly drained on Visconti’s thirst for realism.
But if it is any consolation to the money men (which it almost certainly
isn’t – the production company Titanus folded as a result), it certainly
shows on screen.
are there many people in contemporary society who can associate with the
Prince? How many of us care what happens to stuffy members of the
aristocracy? The intelligence of Visconti’s approach is to transport us to
another place and time – using the flawless production design and hard-won
verisimilitude – one where we could begin to empathise with Don Fabrizio.
the beautifully paced opening to the spectacular ballroom finale, The
Leopard is a pleasure to the eyes and brain.
is one film that definitely needs its DVD release to do it justice, and
the BFI disc does not disappoint. The 2.21:1 anamorphic image is rich with
strong contrast, displaying sumptuous colours within a clean, sharp and
stable picture. The average bit rate is 5.47Mb/sec. The film was restored
in 1991 under the supervision of the cinematographer, and he again assists
here on its passage to DVD. It is a truly magnificent transfer that belies
the age of the print. BFI’s main competition comes in the form of the
recent release of The Leopard from Criterion. Even though the both
the BFI and Criterion transfer come from the same master, the Criterion is
noticeably sharper. But do not take this as a negative, as both versions
soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital mono at 192kbps. Although not
exemplary in any way, it does the job admirably with the kind of clarity
that any attempt at a faux-surround mix would have taken away.
THE BONUS MATERIAL
is where the BFI release really loses out. The Criterion release is packed
with extras across its 3 discs, including a fascinating hour long
documentary, commentary, assorted interviews, a short feature on the real
history of the events, trailers, newsreels, a text essay and the shorter,
161-minute American cut of the film, which features Burt Lancaster’s real
BFI disc can only offer a trailer, director biography, commentary and a
short interview with Claudia Cardinale.
Claudia Cardinale interview (9m 54s)
interview is taken from the 2004 Guardian sponsored Visconti season at the
NFT, at which Cardinale gave a Q&A session. It would have been nice to see
the entire interview on here, rather than these excerpts pertaining to
The Leopard. But what is here remains interesting, if rather short.
Commentary with David Forgacs and Rossana Capitano
is one area where the BFI release wins hands down. The commentary here
covers all aspects of the production, including historical aspects,
anecdotes about the filming, budget details and the significance of
certain camera moves. At times - as with most commentaries - it feels as
if you have put on the hard of hearing audio track, as the commentators
describe what you are watching on screen. But thankfully this is kept to a
Criterion commentary, which also contains ample information along the same
lines, is stifled by the incredibly boring speech of historian Peter Cowie.
He is obviously reading from a script in his monotone voice, the sound of
which he clearly loves.
aspect may be subjective, but the listener will quickly realise that the
BFI commentary has a lot more meat in it.
is a milestone in Cinema, and a film that must be experienced.
often in the history of film has an artist been allowed to invest so much
detail and authenticity with so little regard for budget. The disc
represents this beautifully with a stunning transfer that honours the
cinematography and production design.
loses out to the Criterion Collection release in terms of extras, but as
the BFI version can be picked up far cheaper, this disc will be the viable
option for many.