Charting the changes in 19th-century Sicily

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The Leopard (II Gattopardo)


Luchino Visconti’s majestic film of Giuseppe De Lampedusa’s posthumously published novel is the study of a dying class. Burt Lancaster excels as the family patriarch Don Fabrizio, struggling to come to terms with seismic political changes in 1860s Sicily, where Garibaldi is on the march. He’s wise enough to realise that his way of life is fast becoming obsolete, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting to cling to it. He arranges for his firebrand, spendthrift nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon) to marry into money in the shape of Claudia Cardinale, a wealthy merchant’s daughter.

Visconti?who shared the same ambivalence as his protagonist about his blue blood roots?uses elaborate widescreen cinematography and extraordinarily detailed production and costume design to do justice to De Lampedusa’s book. It’s a bravura if leisurely paced affair (the book was only 200 pages long). Even if this isn’t exactly dynamic storytelling, the set-pieces are so magnificently handled that you’ll forgive the occasional longueur.