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In the 1860s, a dying aristocracy struggles to maintain itself against a harsh Sicilian landscape. The film traces with a slow and deliberate rhythm the waning of the noble home of Fabrizio Corbero, Prince of Salina (the Leopard) and the corresponding rise to eminence of the enormously wealthy ex-peasant Don Calogero Sedara. The prince himself refuses to take active steps to halt the decline of his personal fortunes or to help build a new Sicily but his nephew Tancredi, Prince of Falconeri swims with the tide and assures his own position by marrying Don Calogero's beautiful daughter Angelica. The climatic scene is the sumptuous forty-minute ball, where Tancredi introduces Angelica to society. Written by
Luchino Visconti directed this rich, emotional, and intellectually rewarding study of the aristocracy in 19th century Sicily. Starring Burt Lancaster (his voice well-dubbed in his very best role), this would qualify as a character study if its canvas weren't so large.
As Garibaldi burns his way to a possible worker's revolution, the upper class seems to circle in a different orbit, taking vacations while the situation is at its least stable. With mutton chops beard and careful bearing, Lancaster is very much the Leopard, slyly shifting alliances when it's to his advantage. That's why his protégé (Alain Delon) is so likable to him, a young leopard certain to earn his own place.
This is more a film of character and theme, taking its time to show the contrasts between rich and poor, young and old. The famous ballroom sequence at the end of the film ties it all together with sensitivity and sadness.
The Leopoard requires some patience, but there's much to like. Fans of classic Italian cinema would be advised to seek out the full-length version.
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