DVD Watch: 'The Leopard'
Criterion releases a three-disc restoration project of Visconti's regal The Leopard
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., June 25, 2004
The LeopardCriterion, $49.95
The first viewing of Luchino Visconti's three-hour 1963 film Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) is typically Italian: paced like 1,000 years under the Mediterranean sun. Through the film strides the Prince of Salina (Burt Lancaster), an aging Sicilian aristocrat witnessing 1860's tricolor-ization and understanding intuitively that "for things to remain the same, everything must change." The Prince's cherished nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon) and bourgeois bride-to-be (Claudia Cardinale) are fresco-perfect embodiments of his imminent extinction. "We are the leopards, the lions," murmurs Salina after refusing a political appointment designed to save his hide. "Those who take our place will be jackals, hyenas." Visconti, whose own lineage traced back to Charlemagne, bankrupted his producers with an epic as grandiose as Gone With the Wind, with Nino Rota's score matching the director's sweeping regality. The 45-minute grand ball sequence that ends the film is equal only to the Verdi waltz that dresses it. A second viewing of The Leopard, accompanied by Peter Cowie's expert, three-hour audio seminar and bolstered by a new documentary on the film, contextualizes this Cannes Palme d'Or winner as "an old master painting restored." Cowie's quotations from Giuseppe di Lampedusa's immensely popular novel uncork the wellspring of Visconti's visual lyricism. Lancaster's interpreting his character by observing Visconti, and Cardinale's speaking her lines to him in English while addressing Delon (who was previously in Visconti's magnificent Rocco and His Brothers) in French and the crew in Italian, are but detailing on this three-disc restoration project. Viewing numero tre, the dubbed, U.S. downsizing from 187 minutes to 161 is trimmer (barely) by comparison, but a caricature nonetheless, despite Lancaster dubbing in his own voice. Since his dialogue was originally in English, the match synchs right up. Cut out its native tongue, however, Cardinale calling out, "Tawn-cray-deee, Tawn-cray-deee," and The Leopard goes to the dogs. Even then, after 10 hours and three different versions, you'll want to curl up with Il Gattopardo again. Once and for all.