Criterion Sunday 235: Il gattopardo (The Leopard, 1963)

There’s something about Visconti’s The Leopard that makes it feel like a relic from a previous era of filmmaking, or perhaps its ultimate summation in many ways. Of course, it’s set in the past (the 19th century), and tells a story of an aristocratic family headed by Burt Lancaster’s paterfamilias, confronting a new era of Italy’s reunification under Garibaldi. However, it has that period detail and a certain patina of widescreen cinematography and big, lush melodramatic action that suggests the prestige Hollywood pictures of the 1950s. The confrontation between the aristocracy and the middle-classes — the resigned sense of a world that’s changing beyond one’s control (which plays out primarily across Lancaster’s face) — is very much the kind of grand theme that feels of its time, rather less common in modern cinema (though entitled aristocrats will also be a staple of the costume drama). The way the film works best comes down in large part to Lancaster’s stillness while everything whirls around him — literally so in the last third, which is set amongst a grand ball. Those who are attentive to acting, as to sumptuous set design, will find a lot to like here, and there’s something about the grandeur of the entire undertaking that feels like it will only become more suggestive and richer the more times one watches it, so perhaps by the time I reach Lancaster’s age, I will unreservedly love this. For me now, the film feels like an exemplar (a glorious, expressive one admittedly) of a certain decadent form, just as Lancaster (and his nephew played by Alain Delon) represent that decadence in practice.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Luchino Visconti | Writers Pasquale Festa Campanile, Enrico Medioli, Massimo Franciosa, Visconti and Suso Cecchi d’Amico (based on the novel by Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa) | Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno | Starring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon | Length 185 minutes || Seen at Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Friday 6 June 2003 (and most recently on Blu-ray at home, London, Sunday 6 January 2019)

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Criterion Sunday 50: E la nave va (And the Ship Sails On, 1983)

My sense of late Fellini is that his filmmaking moved into a more determinedly nostalgic register — it’s certainly the feeling I got from 1973’s Amarcord — but if that’s the case, there’s still plenty of interest, much of it rather idiosyncratic. With And the Ship Sails On what we have is a story about the journey of a cruise liner in 1914, around the outbreak of World War I and the delineation of some of the class antagonisms onboard. Obviously, there are shades of another famous (real-life) story here, and some of the same terrain is covered: we have the plutocrats in their opulent dining rooms and cabins while beneath decks are men heaving coal into the boiler’s fires, and a boatload of Serbian refugees from the Austrian-Hungarian empire. Fellini’s style, though, is more playful, and the audience’s entry point is a journalist, Orlando, played with admirable campness by Freddie Jones — indeed, much of the core cast appear to be English actors, albeit dubbed into Italian. Orlando shares his commentary directly to the camera, but all the actors are aware of it and frequently break the fourth wall with nervous glances, as if they are being unwillingly shadowed by a film crew. There’s also a very obvious non-naturalism to the sets and the sea-bound effects, particularly in a sequence near the end, in which the waves are evidently tarpaulins, and a battleship’s smoke is drawn on. It all contributes to a precarious sense of a stratified society teetering on the brink of collapse, something perhaps summed up best by the opera-singing haute bourgeoise characters memorably showing off against one another in heated competition in the ship’s boiler room, egged on by the sweaty men below.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Federico Fellini | Writers Federico Fellini and Tonino Guerra | Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno | Starring Freddie Jones | Length 127 minutes || Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 23 August 2015

Criterion Sunday 4: Amarcord (1973)

Try as I might, I have to concede that there’s a certain temperament of Italian (if not wider Mediterranean-rim) filmmaking that I just don’t enjoy. That said, this extrovert cinema of big boisterous emotions, vibrant music, saturated sun-dappled colours and boyish sexual crudity can sometimes be fitted well to the themes of a film. This at least is the case with Amarcord, a film from later in Fellini’s well-awarded career (this film won an Oscar, in fact). It’s a coming of age film (another less favoured genre of mine), but being set against the backdrop of Fascist 1930s Italy, the aforementioned stylistic traits — with all their effervescence and constant flow of motion and chatter — seem to suggest something cruel and reactionary just beneath the surface, as if people are trying just a little too hard to maintain that facade. It tracks Bruno Zanin’s Titta, growing up in a small Italian town, but you could easily miss his presence, as the film unspools in a series of only loosely-connected vignettes, with an occasional commentator popping up to be pranked and mocked by unseen offscreen townsfolk. There are restagings of local traditions, wistful nostalgic reflections, busty local women (including Magali Noël’s town beauty Gradisca, lusted after by Titta and his fellow schoolboys) and plenty of the usual kind of incident you get with these films, but with uniformed officers flitting through the background and suggesting what is to come. All of this is expertly shot in sumptuous colour by Giuseppe Rotunno, making for a beautiful spectacle. Whether you enjoy it quite as much or not, however, may be down to your taste as it is to mine.

Criterion Extras: There’s a 45 minute documentary called Fellini’s Homecoming which deals with his complicated relationship to his hometown of Rimini. It’s made clear along the way that Amarcord is not intended to be set in Rimini (it’s more supposed to be an any-small-town of Europe), but that many of the characters are based on real childhood figures Fellini grew up with. There’s a series of interviews with childhood friends (include the real ‘Titta’), colleagues and biographers, and it becomes evident that Fellini had no particular fondness for Rimini, though the two patched things up later in his life, and after death.

Aside from this, there’s a short interview with the French star of the film Magali Noël, who talks about what she knew about the real Gradisca and about working with Fellini (he called her to fly into Rome literally hours before the start of filming), and a soundless deleted scene presenting another character in the town. There’s a demonstration of the restoration of the film for the new edition, with old and cleaned-up images side-by-side for comparison, and the American trailer. Plus there are lots of images of drawings and photos, as well as posters and marketing ephemera for the film, which are of passing interest.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Federico Fellini | Writers Federico Fellini and Tonino Guerra | Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno | Starring Bruno Zanin, Magali Noël | Length 124 minutes || Seen at home (DVD), London, Monday 1 December 2014