(from October 2010, separate blog)
Watched Visconti's "The Leopard" currently doing the rounds in cinemas after some restoration work on this 1963 film. Starring a dubbed Burt Lancaster in an unlikely but successful casting, it traces the story of a Sicilian noble, the Prince of Salina, at the time of Italian Unification and his reluctant yielding to the turmoil sweeping around him while lamenting the enduring futility of the human condition.
"Something had to change so that everything else could remain as before," he observes laconically, a comment as applicable to now as 19th century Italy.
He feels humans will never learn the pointlessness of their greed and rapaciousness because they already believe themselves to excel in everything (though of course he speaks with some in-built advantage in this). A noteworthy scene shows the Prince commenting on how some visiting soldiers have exchanged the redshirts of Garibaldi for richly decorated blue and gold uniforms. "We are now soldiers of the Royal Army!" comes the proud reply, to the Prince's cynical if weary approval.
His dilettante nephew, played by Alain Delon, falls in love with the daughter (Claudia Cardinale) of a vulgar "nouveau riche" who, after supporting political change to secure his own position of influence, remarks approvingly when the army execute some rebels he had previously allied with, "This Government does things properly. Now we can take things easy."
It is indeed a meditation on social change and how elites accommodate, absorb and ultimately neutralise challenges to them. On a more individual level, it is a reflection on love ("One year of fire and passion; thirty years of ashes!") and age. Best viewed, I am certain, on the big screen - sumptuously filmed at a pace which provides a visual feast of Italian landscape, languid summer picnics and a sweeping set-piece ball filled with rich colours, swirling music and lavish costumes - it is very much worth catching on its current run.