The Leopard ★★★½

Based on Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel, Il gattopardo, The Leopard is kind of like an Italian Gone With the Wind; that is, if Scarlett O'Hara had done nothing but gaze wistfully for 4 hours as Atlanta slowly smoldered. Visconti's visual style is so rich that it alone is almost enough to engender empathy for Salina as his world disintegrates, but The Leopard is ultimately a case of too much subtext and not enough text. It's still remarkably watchable for the entire 3 hours, but, Lancaster's strong presence and the sensitive thematic exploration notwithstanding, I never really cared what became of the Salinas, or the rest of the Sicilians, or what it meant for Italy as a unified country, because Salina himself is so passive, watching events unfold, and acting indignant while knowingly participating contrary to his own interests.

Also, distancing the viewer, nothing that happens in The Leopard really matters. As Tancredi (Alain Delon) says, repeatedly, "If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change." The only significant change over the course of The Leopard is that Salina grows older and views the emerging generation through the jaundiced spectacles typical of the old guard, offering a dim view of the new elite, the limitations of his own offspring, and the character of Sicilians in general. He's a real sourpuss at heart, and it's mildly interesting to observe him observing the toll of cultural change, but it's never compelling or particularly moving.

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