Released by: BFI Released on: 6/21/2010 Director: Luchino Visconti Cast: Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, Terrence Hill Year: 1963
Based on the book by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard is an impressive period film that follows Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Burt Lancaster) as he adjusts to political changes in Sicily where he arrives around the time that Garibaldi invades only to find out that his nephew, Tancredi (Alain Delon), has just enlisted in the military. Fabrizio had been hoping Tancredi would succeed him and become the patriarch of the family, but this casts doubt on that decision. Unsure of what he do, he consults with the mayor, Don Calogero Sedara (Paolo Stoppa), in hopes that they can form a mutually beneficial alliance together. When Calogero arrives at Fabrizio’s mansion for dinner, his gorgeous niece, Angelica (Claudia Cardinale), accompanies him and Tancredi falls in love with her instantly. Fabrizio and his wife, Princess Maria Stella (Rina Morelli), become concerned that their plans to marry Tancredi to one of their daughters, Concetta (Lucilla Morlacchi), are going to fall through
Tancredi urges Fabrizio to convince Calogero that he should marry Angelica, which sends Maria into a rage as this will tarnish the family’s image and make them look bad in the eyes of the local priest, Father Pirrone (Romolo Valli). Fabrizio, however, makes his nephews intentions known. When Calogero returns from the military a general, he brings along Count Cavriaghi (Terence Hill) who he hopes will be able to woo Concetta in his place.
Set in and around a rather tumultuous time in Italian history, The Leopard is a lavish affair with some stunning sets and locations and gorgeous cinematography. Every frame of the film is picture perfect in its framing and shot composition and it’s easy to see why the film is as well regarded as it is. The ornate mansions and extravagant costumes are all captured in perfect detail and in such a way as to exhibit really show off their finery. All of this is to a point, as Visconti’s film makes it very clear that we’re watching the most elite of the upper crust at their most decadent, but it’s easy to lose sight of that and just get swept away in the beauty of it all.
The Leopard is more than just a visually impressive film, however, as it tells an interesting story as well. By mixing up historical drama with some interesting romantic ideas and political undertones, the film, which is over three hours in length, remains engrossing enough that it’s never a chore to sit through despite the lengthy running time. The acting is superb across the board, with Lancaster here proving once again why he was one of the best leading men of his generation and Claudia Cardinale appearing here at her most beautiful. Even Terrance Hill, best known for his bumbling spaghetti western comedies and his slapstick duo antics with Bud Hill, is in fine form, affording his character some rich emotional qualities.
Visconti has, with The Leopard, made a remarkable film, one with a lasting effect both visually and thematically. It’s a melancholy picture, but a veritable masterpiece certainly well worth revisiting, particularly when presented in such fine form as it is here.
The BFI presents The Leopard in its original 2.20.1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio in a very pleasing AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer that exhibits excellent detail and gorgeous color reproduction. If you really look for it you might pick out a bit of mild background noise but generally we’re left with a remarkably clean and clear picture that shows great texture and a lot of detail in the close up shots and medium and long distance shots as well. Contrast is dead on, black levels are strong and deep, and print damage is relegated to the minutest instances that most won’t even notice. Skin tones look nice and natural and this is, by and large, a rather remarkable effort.
The sole audio option for the movie is an Italian language LPCM 2.0 track with optional subtitles in English. The mix is well balanced and free of any audible hiss or distortion and the score in particular sounds very good here. Dialogue is always easy to understand and the subtitles are free of any typographical errors.
Professor David Forgacs and Rossana Capitano kick the extras off with an interesting, if rather scholarly, commentary track that does a really impressive job of putting the film’s politics into context and allowing us to take in a deeper appreciation for the film. On top of that, they make some interesting comparisons to other Visconti films and detail the production’s history, locations, cast and crew. It’s periodically a little on the dry side but it is definitely packed with a lot of great information on the film and the people who made it.
There’s also a great ten minute interview with Claudia Cardinale included here in which the charming actress discusses her professional relationship with Visconti, working on his films, and her work with Fellini. Rounding out the disc is a trailer for the film, menus and chapter stops. Inside the keepcase is a twenty-six page full color booklet including credits for the film and the Blu-ray disc as well as essays from David Forgac, Antonello Trombadori, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith and Luchino Visconti himself as well as an interview with Claudia Cardinale originally published in The Guardian.
The Final Word:
The Leopard is a beautifully made film and the BFI’s Blu-ray release treats it properly. The transfer is excellent, the audio problem free, and the supplements both plentiful and quite interesting. All in all, this is a very impressive and carefully put together package, those involved on the BFI’s side should take a bow.