It has seemed lately that I have decided longer is better. Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, Children of Paradise, Scenes from a Marriage, and this film all top out at around three to four hours. Added to the fact that I marathoned the rest of the Up series for this month and you have got me in front of the television screen a lot this month. For most of these films, I did not feel the time pass by me. I became absorbed in the universe each very different director was creating. This can not be said by the Leopard. I did everything in my power to stay invested in this three-hour snore fest all to no avail.
I think the main problem with the film is the plot or lack thereof. The Leopard is about a dying aristocratic society in Sicily. The Prince and his family are sinking very quickly into a democratic society filled with peasants as important figures instead of the royal family. I have just described the whole plot or at least the important parts of the plot in two sentences. So why did it take Visconti over three hours to show us this? Because he was more interested in just following around the Prince and contrasting him with his nephew, a leader of the new democracy. However the point of the Prince’s character is that he does nothing to stop his quickly fading power. This translates to him literally doing nothing about anything happening around him. Burt Lancaster plays this Prince. He tries his hardest to imbue some emotion in his speeches and actions, but the result is long stretches of him walking from one room to the next in a dream like state only to be awakened by some minute detail of the plot. Alain Delon isn’t much better. He is the foil to the Prince and represents the future of the country. He chooses to court a peasant with money as opposed to a royal family member. This is the most interesting thing about his character and even that he gets wrong. There is a long sequence in a closed off portion of the palace where he plays with his new fiancé. Their attraction and love for each other is supposed to be palpable, but it never reaches that point. This sequence just lies there while we wait for something more interesting to watch.
It seems Visconti was more interested in showing the opulence of the time than in the plot. Every scene, even the outside shots, are stuffed to the brim. The intricate costumes, gilded rooms and dusty roads result in a fussy picture. In fact too much attention was paid attention to the look of the film that they forgot to tell us non-Sicilians the history we are supposed to be watching. I didn’t know until about an hour into the film that Sicily at this time wasn’t apart of Italy. I also didn’t know going into this movie that Sicily had a monarchy at any point. There is no mention of exactly what time this takes place, what has happened to the king, what sides Tancredi (Alain Delon) is on at a given moment or what those sides really and truly want. This confusion led to me relying more on the plot which gave way the moment anything happened. In Children of Paradise, I didn’t know the history of the French theater or much about pantomime, but it didn’t matter because the story was so great. If the story sucks than I at least want to learn something about the time and the people involved. This movie didn’t even give me the satisfaction of that.