3 minutes reading time (620 words)

Ciao Asheville Reflects on "The Leopard"

Robert Formento, Film Coordinator and Critic for Ciao Asheville, talks about "The Leopard"

Some additional information from our discussion about the book and movie, “The Leopard”:

  • The movie is based on a novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The book was published in 1959, one year after Lampedusa’s death. It chronicles the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Risorgimento (Italian reunification). Lampedusa was a Sicilian aristocrat, who based it on his great-grandfather. He died not knowing that his book would be published. (it had been rejected twice during the last year that he was still alive)
  • The book became an instant success, the top selling book in Italian history and winning the prestigious Italian Strega Award. 
  • A movie of the book was released in 1963 winning the top Cannes award, the Palme d’Or. Although the movie was a success, internationally, it not a success in the US until it’s re-release in the original version in 1983. The first release cut important material to make it shorter, used an inferior version of Technicolor, and worst yet had the cast speaking English, without subtitles. It did not work.
  • The director, Luchino Visconti, from an aristocratic family himself, was uniquely qualified to direct a movie about the changes to the aristocracy.
  • It is often described as Italy’s “Gone with the Wind”. Why? It has war, romance and social and political change. All in one book! Additional comparisons can be made to America’s time of the civil war. Both were wars of unification between the North and the South. Both countries tragically lost forward thinking leaders. Lincoln was shot before he could implement positive reunification in the US and Prime Minister Cavour of Italy died in 1861 at age 50 leaving decisions regarding unification to less enlightened leaders. The South of both countries suffered.
  • Burt Lancaster (who plays Fabrizio, the Sicilian prince, and Claudia Cardinale, who plays the beautiful, but lower class, Angelica) were two of the leading actors. Visconti was originally not in favor of Burt Lancaster for the role of a Sicilian prince. He reluctantly accepted him based on his “star power” and watching his performance inJudgement of Nuremberg released in 1961. Visconti was won over by Lancaster’s performance in The Leopard and they became best friends. There was no reluctance to cast Claudia Cardinale in her role as Angelica!
  • Two famous quotes from the book and movie are:
    • “if we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change” — this line kind of sums up the political struggles in the movie
    • Love, of course love. Flames for a year, ashes for thirty.” — this line kind of sums up up the Prince’s view of his marriage and his prediction for Angelica and Tancredo’s romance
  • The ballroom scene — at the time of filming, it was about 105 degrees in Sicily! It was so hot that the ballroom scenes (in full formal dress) were filmed from 8pm to about 4am! In keeping with the 1800s, all of the electric bulbs in the light fixtures were changed back to candles (hundreds of candles)! Given the heat, plus the intense overhead camera lights, the candles would melt and had to be replaced every hour. Such was the meticulous attention to detail by Visconti.
  • Italy was the last country in Europe to be unified. Before the Risorgimento, the last time the country was united was during the Roman Empire. Between then and Garibaldi’s invasion of Sicily to begin the unification, close to 15 occupations occurred making for a very diverse culture. (if you include time before the Roman Empire, the count increases to about 20 different occupations!)

Follow All Things Italian and Ciao Asheville Events HERE!

Merlot, Prisoner Dinner, Bordeaux, Broc, Quincy, M...
Ciao Asheville presents Plan Your Trip to Italy