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Film / The Leopard

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"We were the leopards, the lions, those who take our place will be jackals, hyenas, and the whole lot of us — leopards, lions, jackals and sheep — will continue to think ourselves the salt of the earth."
Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina

The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) is a 1963 film by Luchino Visconti, adapted from the book of the same name by Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa, with a soundtrack by Nino Rota. It takes place in Western Sicily during the Wars of Italian Independence.

Prince Don Fabrizio Corbera of Salina (Burt Lancaster) is The Patriarch of a powerful Sicilian aristocratic family. On the eve of Giuseppe Garibaldi's landing in Sicily, Don Fabrizio contemplates the future of his family and way of life in a post-Risorgimento Italy where the middle classes will hold power. Being highly realistic, he decides to go with the times. He's highly pleased that his more ruthless nephew Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon) has joined Garibaldi's Redshirts. When the fighting thins out, he moves his family to the country estate of Donnafugata in the hope of marrying his nephew to Angelica (Claudia Cardinale), the daughter of the Nouveau Riche Don Calogero.

The film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1963 and was a huge box-office success in Europe. It is generally considered one of Italy's greatest films and one of the greatest historical films ever made, and Luchino Visconti's best known work. It would go on to influence several film-makers around the world, including Sydney Pollacknote , Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola (whose The Godfather films contain several homages to Visconti's film).

In terms of style, it combines the Hollywood Epic Movie (exotic locations, big stars, battle scenes) with the European art film. It is especially famous for its jaw-dropping use of colour, location shooting and the famous hour long ball scene of the finale. Burt Lancaster, cast against type, always considered the film his favorite of all his roles and the one he was proudest of.


  • Adaptation Distillation: The film adapts the first three-quarters of the book, cutting out the final part and the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue at the end.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The film's ball-scene while largely featuring lines of dialogue and scenes from the book, expands upon it considerably. In the book, the ball scene was a largely internal moment; in the film it becomes a major setpiece. It also shows the battle scenes that were off-screen in the book.
  • Angry Collar Grab: Prince Fabrizio angrily pulls Don Ciccio close during their second hunting scene when the latter openly opposes the marriage and proclaims it will be the end of the two families.
  • Animal Motifs: The Italian word "Gattopardo" includes several animals from the Big Cat family. The book's author, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, an actual Sicilian aristocrat, based it on his family's coat-of-arms, which is technically the lesser known Serval. The International title makes it "The Leopard". As the quote above shows, it allows for a lot of applicability towards the class conflict at the time.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: An incredible lengthy scene showing the fighting in Palermo after the landing of Garibaldi's Thousands.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Tancredi learns that he will be nominated as a candidate for the new Italian Senate in Turin (which the Prince already suspected), and he has his upcoming marriage to Angelica Sedara to look forward to. However, Concetta is still pining for Tancredi, and although Don Fabrizio re-captured some of his former elegance and class while waltzing with Angelica, he is all too aware that the world his family has inhabited for centuries is crumbling into dust, symbolised by the final shot of him walking into a darkened alley.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: The decent government representative notes that the Prince is far more intelligent and politically shrewd than Don Calogero and that he would make a brilliant senator and statesman. The Prince for his part declines stating that this opportunity has come too late for him.
    Prince Fabrizio: I belong to an unlucky generation, astride between two worlds and ill-at-ease in both. And what is more, I am completely without illusions. Now, what would the Senate do with me, an inexperienced legislator who lacks the faculty for self-deception, an essential requisite for wanting to guide others. No, I cannot lift a finger in politics. It would be bitten off.
  • Dances and Balls: The film is famous for having what some call the greatest ball scene in movies. It lasts for a whole hour.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The final ball scene is a slow drawn out version for Prince Fabrizio, as he realizes that once Tancredi and Angelica marry, there's nothing left for him in life to do but wait for death. The aristocratic life that he knew has gone and he has no place in the new world.
    Prince Fabrizio: Oh stars, oh faithful stars! When will you decide to give me a less fleeting appointment far from everything, in your realm of perennial certainty?
  • End of an Era: For the Sicilian aristocracy as a whole. The parasitic aristocracy which has dominated for centuries is slowly dying because of its inertia and lack of modern views and contacts with their new social reality. And that's how the bourgeoisie is rising up to power.
  • Foil: They are inevitable:
    • First of all, Prince Fabrizio and Don Calogero: the aristocrat at his sunset, and the rising social climber.
    • Angelica and Concetta: the former is a dark-haired, seductive and a Nouveau Riche, the latter is a blonde Proper Lady of ancient nobility.
  • Full-Circle Revolution:
    • Don Fabrizio tells Father Pirrone early on that the emerging middle-class revolutionaries don't want to kill the aristocracy but merely replace them, and continue on as before. This is the great reason why he decides to support the Risorgimento and make Sicily part of the Italian state. Tancredi, his nephew, is even more cynical:
    • In the course of the ball, the Prince discovers that at dawn tomorrow, some dissenting Garibaldi loyalists will be shot. At dawn next day, Tancredi, Angelica and Don Calogero travel in a carriage and pass by the events.
      Don Calogero: An excellent army. They do things properly. Just what we need for Sicily. Now, we can take it easy.
  • Gratuitous French: The Salinas' governess, Mademoiselle Dombreuil, speaks in French all the time despite everyone around her being Italian.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: All over the place, especially in the ball scene.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Concetta secretly wishes to poison Angelica, who has stolen Tancredi's affection from her.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The film portrays the Italian Risorgimento with a highly jaundiced view, where nationalist rhetoric allows middle-class Nouveau Riche to grab property. Sicilians largely see the new nation as just another in a long line of exploiters out to use them.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Tancredi's father lost all his wealth with his dissolute life and left Tancredi orphan at fourteen with only his title and his Blue Blood.
  • Like a Son to Me: It's no secret that Prince Fabrizio prefers Tancredi over his own offspring (less Concetta, maybe) like the firstborn he always wished to have, since his heir, Paolo, is far less smart and strong-willed.
  • Meet the New Boss: As far as Sicilians are concerned, the Italian Nation is just like every other invading usurper out to exploit them. The rigging of elections that we see merely confirms it.
  • Nobility Marries Money: Impoverished patrician Tancredi needs Nouveau Riche Angelica's wealth to pursue the political career he wishes.
  • Nouveau Riche: Don Calogero Sedara, Angelica's father, is from a working-class background, got rich with cleverness, and managed to buy many of the feuds lost by aristocrats.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The final scene of Prince Fabrizio walking off into a dark alley.
  • Older Than They Look: Partly because of casting but also in terms of overall appearance, Prince Fabrizio looks much younger than a patriarch of a Sicilian aristocracy ought to be. He himself reflects on this poignantly, after learning that his daughter Concetta has fallen in love:
    Prince Fabrizio: At forty-five a man may still think he's young until he realizes his children are old enough to fall in love.
  • Playing Against Type: invoked Burt Lancaster, star of adventure movies and Film Noir, the son of working-class immigrant and a former circus performer plays a member of the fading aristocracy. The film's producer cast Lancaster against Visconti's wishes and he was initially opposed to it but agreed after meeting Lancaster. He learnt that Lancaster grew up with Sicilian immigrants as neighbours and he understood the political context, the culture and its grudges very well.
  • Playing Both Sides: What Don Fabrizio engages in with this film. He's ostensibly the landowning aristocracy loyal to the old nobility and aristocratic order but via Tancredi, he plays a role in making Sicily part of mainland Italy. Father Pirrone, a Jesuit priest in service to the family, is opposed to reunification and criticizes the Prince's support for reunification:
    Don Fabrizio: We're not mentally blind, dear Father. Just human beings in a world of radical change. What must we do? The church has been given an explicit promise of immortality. We, as a social class, have not. A palliative that promises us another hundred years is the same as eternity.
  • Re-Cut: Visconti's first cut was 205 minutes long, but was felt to be excessive in length by both the director and producer, and was shortened to 195 minutes for its Cannes Film Festival premiere. Visconti then cut the film further to 185 minutes for its official release, and considered this version to be his preferred one. The U.S English-dubbed version, in which the Italian and French actors were dubbed over (except for Burt Lancaster, whose original English voice work is heard), was edited down to 161 minutes by 20th Century Fox.
  • She's All Grown Up: Angelica at 13 was rather plain, while Angelica at 17 is a total stunner.
  • Shown Their Work: Visconti, being an actual aristocrat, went out of his way to get a lot of the period details right. He shot extensively in Sicily, including the actual locations fictionalized in the book. Most famously, when searching for a unique piece of music for the ball sequence, he actually discovered an unused piece of music by Verdi in his attic and the film is the first time it's featured.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Early in the climactic ball sequence, Fabrizio watches a large group of aristocratic young ladies chattering loudly as they fan themselves, some of them jumping up and down on the sofas and laughing. He drily notes that this is what comes of generations of cousins intermarrying, hinting that the old aristocracy might survive Italian unification if they had better genetic diversity and thus more intelligence and political savvy.