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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
When the professor finds the young people naked in his flat, Lietta quotes a poem at him, saying (according to the Australian DVD subtitles) that it was Ordon's last poem. This is a misspelling of Auden (W.H. Auden). See more »
Luchino Visconti, ailing and partially paralyzed by a stroke a year or two before, managed to finish 'Conversation Piece' (the Italian title to me seems better -- 'A conversation inside a family). He called upon Burt Lancaster to play his protagonist, the retired American professor who has withdrawn from the world, devoting his hours to his passion of minor English 18 and 19 century art and to his books, in Rome. We see not the energetic hero of 'The Leopard', but a tired older man without qualities, in a well ordered arrangement of taste for tradition and patterns and philosophical musing. And his apartment is the embodiment of that world that is not only antiquated but which time has passed by. His is a bourgeois order that belongs in history books or literature. And into his quiet world burst with great energy is the modern temperament of a dysfunctional family of the upper class, filthy with money and decadent. The beautiful Sylvana Mangano is the marchesa who finagles the professor to rent a vacant apartment above his museum like apartment with its stuffy furniture, it corridors brimming with portraits of bucolic scenes from the English gentry or great men and family, It is in a sense as musty and locked away as the long f=vacant apartment he lets for the marchesa's kept German lover Conrad (Visocnti's own lover Helmut Berger), as well as her daughter and friend. And suddenly, the upper floor is transformed, as a contrast, with a modernism that is loud and vulgar and in stark contrast to the professor's mausoleum, as he quietly awaits death, as much as he values his solitude and the silence of his own carthusian-like order. The marchesa is temperamental, demanding and will have her way with her rent lover, if he doesn't slip through her greedy grasp. The professor's world is turned upside down, as he is drawn into this world of his madcap tenants. As such, images of his mother (Dominique Sanda) and his wife (Claudia Cardinale) in brief scenes bring him back to the world he has shunned. And with a turn of the wrist, Visconti has hooked up the older bourgeois order to the new one, but his professor remains aloof until it is too late. For, despite his reluctance, the marchesa, her daughter, her daughter's friend and mercurial Conrad, a refugee from the turbulent 1960 radicalism, in the professor's mind have become his 'adopted' family; yet, the professor maintains his value free mind and refused to become engaged and with responsibility, until the tragic end. And then you have to wonder. Somehow, 'Conversation Piece' sets off bells in our minds today: its vulgar display of money, the absence of responsibility, the money cultural of a decadent capitalist class. Visconti with a year or so from his own death still had a vision of his own class and its failure to live up to values it espoused. It won't please everyone's taste, but it is worth seeing for the curious.
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