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Retired professor of American origin lives solitary life in luxurious palazzo in Rome He is confronted by vulgar Italian marchesa and her companions: her lover, her daughter and daughter's boyfriend and forced to rent to them an apartment on upper floor of his palazzo. From this point his quiet routine is turned into chaos by his tenants' machinations, and everybody's life is taking unexpected but inevitable turn. Written by
Beautiful interiors and the detail of a picture by Arthur Davies observed through magnifying glass by an elderly Professor. The picture occurs to show a family... Can anyone realize that this painting shall soon constitute a prelude to such unpredictable events and reflections?
Luchino Visconti did not make many movies in his career because he insisted on saying that his films related to the things that really captivated him. When he wanted to say something significant, he just made up his mind to commit himself to another production. And of course there are better and worse movies of his, naturally; however, I personally think that CONVERSATION PIECE (or rather the more accurate title GRUPPO DI FAMIGLIA IN UN INTERNO - group of the family within) is one of those movies that intensely reveals a desire to convey a message. Count Visconti is much different and older here than 30 years earlier in his OSSESSIONE but equally powerful.
It is truly a psychologically captivating image of a communication among people who are absolutely different in their coexistence. The Professor (Burt Lancaster) is a man of clearly defined ideas, an elderly intellectual who has already set down his life and seeks to be left alone among his "mute pictures." However, a group of people intervene and insist on him to rent the elegant upper flat. These are Marchesa Bianca Brumonti (Silvana Mangano) with her lover Konrad (Helmut Berger), and her daughter Lietta (Claudia Marsani) with her boyfriend Stefano (Stefano Patrizi). Although they seem to be nice people at first sight, they occur to be a true riddle for the Professor who is gradually losing contact with reality. Their vulgar talk harms him and their open bisexuality shocks him. Things turn worse and, consequently, the suspicious events make the Professor more and more annoyed till the climax of events: emotional conversation. Then, the atmosphere gets most exciting, Marchesa drinks rare evening coffee and people harm themselves: some physically, some emotionally and some in both ways. Yet, no one can predict what this horrific climax moment will cause...
Thanks to unpredictable content and good action, the film occurs to be the Visconti's production of particular impression and interest. But that is not the only aspect that talks for the movie. Art is expressed in beautiful images, excellent interiors comparable to IL GATTOPARDO and some brilliant performances. I say "some" because not everyone gives a top notch performance. Burt Lancaster does the continuation of the magnetic job he did as Prince Salina in IL GATTOPARDO: he is very convincing as the Professor portraying a man desirous of stability, a bit intolerant and maniacal as he described elderly people, but overall a warm hearted reliable character so anxious with all sorts of sudden changes (moral ones too). Silvana Mangano is appealing as Marchesa Bianca: eminent, partly decadent, very elegant and nervous. She represents the other side of the older generation escaping not to books or paintings like the Professor but rather to life of luxury and extraordinary journeys. Yet, consequently, she also loses link with reality. She is more acknowledged of the world and alleged information than real dangers within her family. Youngsters, however, do not appear that convincing. Helmut Berger, though a good actor especially after his role in LUDWIG, appears to be a bit pathetic in the role of Konrad, Claudia Marsani is rather sensual and beautiful than talented and Stefano Patrizi does not appeal to me at all. Some good job among the supporting cast is done by Elvira Cortese as Erminia, the housekeeper who has some wonderfully witty moments.
But finally, I should address the most important aspect of the movie that makes it so impressive and so unique. It is the psychology of what is going on in the entire film, it is the constant attempt at communicating rather simple ideas, yet failing to do that. Why? Because the contrast is too serious: intellect vs parroting, mutual goodness vs hedonism, good will vs good fun, idealism vs materialism, the old vs the young with all specific fears and desires. That is the gist of the movie, that is what made the Professor realize and makes us realize a significant fact: it's really possible to speak one language, use the same codes, yet absolutely fail to communicate and coexist. It makes people remark the division of society, which is not a very privileged fact, but true one, unfortunately.
CONVERSATION PIECE is a film I'd recommend you to see. But remember one thing: it really has to do with the theme you are not likely to find elsewhere: shallow understanding of nothing and profound understanding of everything. 8/10
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