An epic on the grandest possible scale that recreates, with nostalgia, drama, and opulence, the tumultuous years of Italy's Risorgimento—when the aristocracy lost its grip and the middle classes rose and formed a unified, democratic Italy. An aging prince (Burt Lancaster) watches his culture and fortune wane in the face of a new generation, represented by his upstart nephew (Alain Delon) and his beautiful fiancée (Claudia Cardinale).
Luchino Visconti's film The Leopard, based on Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel, was originally released in the English speaking world in a compromised form – its in excess of three hour running time was shortened by forty minutes and it was printed on incorrect stock which never allowed its glorious technicolor images to be fully appreciated. Well, the good news is that a new fully restored print is in release and we can now see this amazing film as Visconti intended.
Burt Lancaster, one of Visconti's favourite actors, plays the Sicilian Prince of Salina whose aristocratic world is being threatened by Garibaldi's revolutionary forces. The Prince has a special fondness for his nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon), who decides to join the revolution. The Prince bows to the inevitable and gives his blessing. When order is re-established, Tancredi returns. He's now a regular soldier in the king's army. The Prince sees the way the winds of change are blowing,the bourgeoisie is becoming powerful so he encourages a match between his nephew and Angelica (Claudia Cardinale), the daughter of the plebeian nouveau riche Mayor of Donnafugata where the family's country home is located.
This elegiac, beautiful film is filled with sadness and resignation, with a pragmatic acceptance that things must change but that in the process much that is beautiful will be lost. Surprisingly I felt it had great relevance for today's world in which us human beings are being turned into mere customers. Every frame of the film is an artwork, the attack on Palermo by Garibaldi's forces so beautifully and yet realistically staged, the performances sublime. Visconti was an aristocrat who became influenced by Marxism and his political leanings were reflected in his early neo realistic works. But later in his career which spanned 34 years he turned towards historical and literary themes in which the conflicting ideas of progress and nostalgia were explored as you can see in The Leopard, which was made in 1963. It's a great work of film, gorgeous to see in all its glory, incredibly moving in its depiction of a sense of loss.
Comments by David Stratton: One of the great achievements of Italian cinema, Visconti's beautiful examination of the end of an era as seen from the perspective of a nobleman who knows that times are changing. Subtle and intricate, it's a film that hints and alludes to so much more than is actually spelt out, like the Prince's love for the beautiful Angelica. Burt Lancaster, despite being dubbed into Italian, is quite wonderful, Alain Delon is dashing and Claudia Cardinale breathtakingly beautiful. A stunning experience.