The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) Luchino Visconti(It 1963)Burt Lancaster; Claudia Cardinale
Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 8 June 16; ticket £8-75
The Leopard about whom it is said that he cannot change his spots…
Visconti’s The Leopard is permeated by filmic ideas relating to movement and false movement.
The real movement in the film is there before our eyes continuously present for us.In the furling and unfurling of cloth drapes and curtains. In the billowing of dresses as they swath the female form and suggest and anticipate the ebb and flow of psychic tides:the incessant agitation in the spirit of times trapped in the rigidity of death.Visconti’s (V) intelligent eye is fascinated by the suggestive possibilities of the fluid.In the opening sequencethe wind breezes through the opened French windows; thelace curtains billow gracefully; as do the winds of ideas that gust and fill out the action.
The false movement is the incessant movement of people as they flow through the frames of the film.The people are false in their moves: across rooms,in religious piety,in presentations.All this movementleads nowhere.The populated zones in the film self consume swallow themselves in determination to set things in a motion that is circular as the serpent that swallows its own tail.
There are moments that are still in the film.Thelongueur of the unchanging immobile land. The landscapes still and devoid of people shot by V aschoreographed tracks and reveals, paintings characterised by ochre faded under the intensity of the sun.This burntpastel quality of the land contrasts with the interiors which are set piecesdensely peopled and colourised, the men bound in and woman billowing out and flowing as if anticipating a real change, a feminisation of the social order.V uses this contract this movementto suggest that all this out flowing all this female excitement and movement isthe new force that cannot be contained.
At its narrative surface the film relates how the times change. How the old order of Sicilia gives way to the new order of the Resorgimento: Garibaldi and Philip Emmanuel guiding the people, the youth of the country to a new united Italia.But as V unravels the film we see,through the intelligence of the Prince that nothing in the essence of the political order changes.There is the illusion of change, the conceit of social movement.But nothing in fact happens andthe Prince sickens as he watches the nothing happening.In all the talk of revolution he understands that there is only an adroitly played out political game of musical chairs.
The thought occurs that perhaps that one of the reasons the Prince is enervated and sick, isbecause he has nothing to resist.He reaches a point in his life when he wants to fight;he wants to oppose something, to define himself by noble opposition, to stand up for what he believes in.But there is nothing to believe in: nothing to oppose because nothingreal has changed in the world.People may believe in the notion that something has changed, butthere has been no real political transformation.
But nevertheless the film is about change. Not political change: the wind of change.A wind that blows as thedresses of the women bustle, this world depicted in the film is full of change.The Prince comes to understand this.Whatis changing is not the things that everyone thinks.Another spirit is moving, and it has been picked up and imprinted in female spirit and captured by V in the grain of his film.It lies in the growing consciousness of the Prince in the contrasting forms of the feminine in the character of Angelica that move through his consciousness.
In contrast the Princess rejects joy love and sex.She is bound to a male world of procreation and honour where the feminine spirit and ethos are rigidly and anally bound to the duties of child production.But Angelica is different.She is free.From the moment that we and the Prince first caste eyes on her as she enters the Palace almost bursting out of the bodice of her dress, we know that she’s the carrier of change.She is the fulcrum of the films meaningrepresenting something in the female spirit that is quite independent of the world of men.Completely free of the rigid coded stratifications that bind this society.Whatever happens to her, something of her spirit will always survive in the same way that the Sicilian psyche always survives.
The film’s climax is the union of Angelica and the Prince in dance.The dance is her idea, her proposal to the Prince.In the dance as they move serenely across the floor, the Prince ,who yearns for change for release from the dead world of duty that he inhabits, is briefly shown, as if in a trance or dream,the possibility of another world.
This dance with Angelica in her white floating dress is like a fairy vision bestowed upon selected men who are permitted to see clearly and deeply into the real nature of the world.Like the stories in which a fairy takes a man for a day and a night revealing to him the world of magic dance and music, only for him to return and find that everything has aged.So it is with the Prince.After the dance, which is an intensified surrogate marriage and heightened revelation of a course in life not available to him, there is nothing left for him to do but die.After the dance he is broken because he has fallen out of time.He belongs to a present that is receding accelerating into the past.Angelica is the future denied him.Angelica’s life is for the succeeding generations.It is time for him to move out of the picture.But he understands why.Not intellectually, but as an animal understands, viscerally.The Princeaccepts death as it blows across the fields and down the mountains, only seeking somewhere to lie down forever.