Monday, January 17, 2011

The Leopard

“For this to remain the same, everything must change.” Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Burt Lancaster) repeats these words two times in Luchino Visconti’s screen adaptation of Giuseppe Tomaso di  Lampedusa’s masterpiece The Leopard (Il Gattopardo), currently in revival at Film Forum. The paradoxical sounding utterance are the words of both an idealist, who longs for a world that no longer exists, and a consummate practitioner of realpolitik. The film, which is being shown in a magnificent new print courtesy of Martin Scorsese, is remarkably faithful to the complexity of the original novel. Set against the Risorgimento, in which Garibaldi overthrew the old Bourbon order, unifying Italy under Victor Emmanuel, The Leopard is a complex portrayal of the decline of the old aristocracy, represented by Salina, and the rise of a new middle class, represented in the character of Don Calogero Sedara (Paolo Stoppa), the mayor of Donnafugata, the small Sicilian town where the film is set. His beautiful daughter (Claudia Cardinale) marries the Prince’s nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon), himself a striver and a representative of the new world, with its freedoms, its opportunism and its labile sense of values. At one point, the Prince gives an audience to a representative of the new government, who epitomizes the enlightenment values of progress in his attempt to bring modernity to the South. Refusing to accept an appointment to the senate, Salina says about Sicilians, “Their sensuality is a longing for oblivion.” Visconti and Lampedusa, whose work was rejected for publication in his own lifetime, were both aristocrats, and while it’s impossible to make unknowable generalizations about the inner lives of dead artists, one can’t help but feel that the movie and the novel reflect an almost conservative bias toward irrational truths about human beings that defeat the notion of change.  

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