The gatopardo (1963), By luchino visconti – criticism

Once upon a time on a February eleven one thousand nine hundred and eighty-five. The afternoon was windy in Salamanca, and the session began at seven. As we walked to the Van Dyck multiplexes, a childhood friend and the writer of this commented on the possibility of rain.

What I could not imagine is the amount of beauty that I was going to find within the frame of the screen, photographed in Technirama. Luchino Visconti was a master of the wide screen, but we will return to this later.

‘ El Gatopardo ‘ represents the challenge of Titanus to Hollywood blockbusters of the time. It was about showing (and it was achieved) that a big budget film could focus its argument on philosophical, political, religious questions, and an endless number of intellectual nuances, which converge on a nuclear theme: The decline of a man and his breed; the nobility giving way to the bourgeoisie, not always enlightened and sensitive to aesthetic values.

Perhaps it is not an exaggeration to affirm that ‘ El Gatopardo ‘, together with ‘ Senso ‘ and ‘ Ludwig ‘, constitute a trilogy of decadence in specific socio-historical contexts within Viscontinian filmography. Mario Vargas Llosa, in his book of short essays ‘ The Truth of Lies ‘, dedicates the writing corresponding to the homonymous work of Giusseppe Tomassi de Lampedusawhich serves as the basis for the film, and comments that the flower beds in the gardens of the Salina house in Palermo stink with an exquisite aroma (they are almost textual words). With the mastery of the Nobel Prize, we are in the blink of an eye before a duality that will preside over the entire second part of Visconti’s film career: In a beautiful world, but aged and decadent, inhabits a social class (a social caste) condemned to disappear by a kind of social Darwinism that makes the Cathardean maxim not true “everything must be changed, so that everything remains the same”, pronounced at the beginning of the film by Tancredi (it is enough to see the end of the film, to realize that it was not so): There continues to be law and order; the Garibaldinos have been integrated into a regular army; shootings continue and adoration of the viaticum. But those who perform these acts no longer have the same ability to believe themselves that they once had. They are even clumsy and boast of having raped nuns; The supposed chivalry of Los Leones y Los Leopardos has been left behind: Las Hienas have arrived.

Who now has power?

The World (the power) now belongs to Don Calógero Sedara, and his daughter Angelica. Concetta has had to give up on conquering Tancredi, while enduring cruel white glove taunts inferred by the daughter of the mayor of Donnafugata. Blows with the gloved hand that will cause her personal suffering, but will not alter the fact that she (and not Angelica) is the one who belongs to the lineage of the Gatopardos; to the nobility, who, despite the Prince’s repeated affirmations, that one or two more Centuries of existence represent for them the Eternity that has been promised to the Church, seem to believe in possession, like this one, of the eternal existence: At least that is the attitude that they adopt externally, although in their internal forum they know that they have to give way to the supposedly upstart bourgeoisie.

Of course, not all of them are endowed with El Gatopardo’s modal gray cat. Without going any further, the Prince’s hunting companion; the organist of the town church, which seems to be one more property of the Salina family, emphatically proposes to his lord that his nephew conquers (seduces) the aforementioned Angélica, because marrying her is “an act of total surrender”.

Nor can the Prince’s apparent attitude of superiority avoid a comment like the one in which he sees the young members of the aristocratic families jump and jump, in a festive attitude, during the lengthy sequence of the dance: “They look like monkeys ready to hang themselves of the lamps displaying their butts. ” Apparently, it is a critical comment towards his daughters and their comrades, but his own irony betrays him (or does it not?), Since from the first moment this comment is motivated because the cause of the aforementioned ape aspect is “so many links consanguineos ”: In an indirect way, tangential to the plot of the film, El Gatopardo recognizes the need for regeneration that supported the films Italy of the Risorgimento.

Turning point in career of Luchino Visconti

‘ The Gatopardo ‘represents a turning point in the film career of the theater and opera director who was Luchino Visconti.

The beginnings of the aforementioned career are usually located within the Neorealist movement, which is clearly debatable no matter how much his condition as a Communist made him feel like the great masters of Neorealism. However, if we take his first film (‘ La Terra Trema ‘) as an example, we are forced to recognize a treatment almost of Greco-Roman sculptures in the figures of fishermen in their boats.

However, from ‘ El Gatopardo ‘ (with the aforementioned announcement made when filming ‘ Senso ‘), Visconti aesthetically heads towards the upper classes to which he himself belonged, making films that focus on the conflicts that are their own to certain people who do not need to earn their daily bread, but can afford to plan their life in the long term. Perhaps the two most emblematic films of this second period are ‘ Death in Venice ‘ and the aforementioned ‘ Ludwig ‘. ViscontiAt this stage, cultivate the wide screen rather preferentially, taking out some very rich nuances to the aesthetic-visual possibilities of these formats. It can be said that he photographs ( Giusseppe Rotuno’s work for ‘ El Gatopardo ‘ is exemplary in that sense) with a classicist-mannerist style. The lamps of the type quinqué, the vertical vases with flowers, or the chandeliers are revealed as elements of the props of incalculable value, to placed at one end of the wide frame, projecting the view of the viewer to the opposite side, in a kind of diagonal slightly baroque, which allows the depth of field to be worked in a way that is not novel, it does present the public with all its aesthetic possibilities.

Despite his calm sense and the feeling of fluidity that prevails throughout the cinematographic treatment of the work, Visconti cannot avoid a combination of traveling and zooming in on the scene of Angélica’s second presentation in the Donnafugata palace hall. Over time, Visconti will evolve along these paths, until he reaches the cinematography of his latest film: ‘ El Inocente ‘. But that exceeds the claims of this brief writing.

The soundtrack, by Nino Rota, and which includes a hitherto unpublished waltz by Giusseppe Verdi, contributes to the deliquescent flow of the secondary colors that preside over the film and the Sicilian landscape, as well as, except on rare occasions, the interiors of some stately mansions, and of a popular architecture, both presented with an exquisite sense of esthete; from someone who had received the finest education.

The lighting can be considered slightly Caravaggiesca, with beams visibly directed in the sense that Visconti has requested, but without ever being totally tenebrist. The textures of the surfaces and landscapes (few, the latter; ‘ El Gatopardo ‘ is an interior film in every way) are presented to us with all their splendor and infinite richness of nuances.

‘ El Gatopardo ‘ is not a typical “epic” of the time, as much as it includes the otherwise expendable scene of the battle in the streets of Palermo. However, it shares with them the historical-aesthetic crossroads of an industry that, on the one hand is experiencing the last queues of the study system, and on the other, attending the arrival (in the United States) of the children of the “Corman Factory “, among others. That is: There are no more people like Jack Warner or Louis B. Mayer  Cecil B. de Mille or Darryl Zanuckto manage the making of a blockbuster. The Nouvelle Vague has slightly altered the narrative canons of Classicism. Horses of filmmakers are emerging from television, both in Europe and in the United States, who have a different vision of the problems of framing and lighting. We can calmly say that the same thing was happening to Cinema as to Prince Fabrizio de Salina and his social class: The Aristocracy (Classicism) was disappearing, to make way, not without strong resistance from filmmakers like Visconti himself (from the Gatopardos del Cine), to another caste of filmmakers who would dominate the film scene practically until the mass Internet.

To conclude how we started (with a personal experience), I confess that the cat-green phrase with which I identify the most, is not the famous maxim about “changing everything, so that everything remains the same”. Rather, I think that the Gatopardos is better defined by the opinion put on the Prince’s lips by Tancredi Falconeri: “A palace whose number of rooms is known is not worth inhabiting.”

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