The Leopard (1963)
It's fairly easy to see how "The Leopard" fits into cinema history. It has the same vacant beauty that is present, ten-fold, in "La Dolce Vita". Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno would go on to work with Fellini on "Amarcord" a decade after "The Leopard's" release. For the first part of the 60s, film was dominating with powerful, epic, high-class musicals, but though the large budgets and cheerful acting might be overwhelming, the point of all the films remain the same: they are multi-class, commentaries. "West Side Story" takes place in the gutter, making points about racism. "My Fair Lady" is about a girl being thrown from rags to riches, slyly jabbing at the pomp and circumstance of the higher class. "The Sound of Music" is about Nazis...enough said.
Though all these musicals are cheery and fun at times, "The Leopard" has the big-budget feel, but is rarely as cheery as any of those films. It takes place in Sicily, during a time of inescapable revolution.
Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Burt Lancaster) is part of the nobility. He is an imperfect man and a character that is purposely held at arm's length from the viewer. He seems like a nice guy and when revolution is announced to his family, he is the one sound mind of the lot. His wife is not so much. A woman prone to hysterics, she can dissolve into tears at the slightest hitch.
Though the revolution is what is important to the shaping of Sicily's future, most of "The Leopard" takes place in the private likes of the aristocracy.
They enjoy a luxurious life that doesn't make sense to the "commoners". For instance, as Father Pirrone describes it in the movie, while the people of the street are more concerned about losing loved ones and livestock, the nobility is equally terrified by the idea of not getting to their vacation home.
They live a different life, one that isn't as appealing as the lavish costumes and sets might suggest.
In the modus operandi of "La Dolce Vita" (the film I can't help likening it to the most), "The Leopard" has scenes that seem innocent on the surface but since we know the mind of the protagonist—because we have a knowledge that the characters don't—these scenes can seem quite disturbing.
One of the chief moments, or turning points rather, is when a marriage is announced. A girl named Anjelica (Claudia Cardinale) is introduced and the prince decides that he wants his nephew to marry her. It's not just that he wants this, so does his nephew, seeing as the woman is beautiful beyond compare.
The aristocracy is a shallow bunch, an insipid incestuous mass.
The prince remains a voice of reason.
But why should we believe what he believes?
The prince isn't a great man, on the eve of his departure, perhaps never to come back to his house, he goes out and meets with a prostitute that presumably he has met with several times before. He has no emotion connection with the women, she's just being used for her body. The prince also seems to have feelings for his nephew's fiancee and she to him.
The most forceful character in the film is Anjelica, who seems to exude sexuality with every moment. The lips are bitten, the eyebrows are raised, the bosoms are thrust forward, and then there's the movement of the camera which captures all of these moments and amplifies them.
To many, "The Leopard" might seems like a puff piece of history drama. Indeed, when it's compared to movies like "The Battle for Algiers" or "Z", it does pale next to them.
The impact of the movie is not where you expect it. Instead, the film festers inside you, letting you ponder the existence of several classes and what makes them good. It rarely condemns.
In the end, at over three hours long, "The Leopard" may seem just a bit too grandiose for its own good; but that's the point of the film. The parties are opulent, the dresses are large, and the meaning is deep within.
Posted by Micah Jones