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The Leopard: a truly great movie

This article is over 17 years, 5 months old
Bob Light spotlights a classic in the world of film
Issue 1915

Ask any Marxist film fan (say, me) to name their top ten movies and I’d guarantee that Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard would be on it.

This film has long been like a well kept secret because it was so bloody difficult to see. The only version available on video was the dubbed US version which has almost half an hour hacked off, and where “Italian” aristocrats speak with Noo Yaawk accents.

Occasionally an arthouse cinema would show the Italian version at some ungodly hour on a Sunday, when the cinema would be full of men of a certain age all carrying plastic bags for some reason.

But now the secret is out – on DVD at least! The specialist US label Criterion has released a gorgeous three-disc version of The Leopard, which includes the full Italian version, the US release and a disc of “extras”.

It’s expensive (£23.99 on, post included) and needs a multi-region DVD player. It’s also long, set 150 years ago, and in Italian.

But trust me, The Leopard really is a great movie. It is set during the Risorgimento, that extraordinary moment when the nation of Italy was forged by a mixture of revolution and political manoeuvre. A band of nationalist revolutionaries, led by Garibaldi, have invaded Sicily to drive out the decrepit Bourbon dynasty and bring the kingdom into the new Italian state.

This moment is personified in the figure of the Leopard – Fabrizio, Prince of Salina, the ageing Sicilian nobleman. He is the very embodiment of the old order, but he is also shrewd enough to know that “for things to remain the same, everything must change”.

Salina’s nephew Tancredi joins Garibaldi’s Redshirts, and later consummates the new order by marrying Angelica, the daughter of the wealthy landowner, Don Sedara.

This is a dazzling film about epic events. But it is more than that – it is a film about how history is shaped by class.

The movie closes with an extended sequence where the new ruling class celebrates its empty regime change at a sumptuous ball. As Salina now says, “We were the leopards, the lions. Those who take our place will be jackals, hyenas.”

Where Giuseppe Lampedusa’s original book had told this story with regret, Visconti will allow none.

Visconti always said that while making the film he had in his mind that in the 1920s Tancredi would have been a fascist. We can be equally sure that today he would be with Berlusconi (and Blair) in Team Bush. We must reclaim this sublime Marxist film from the plastic bag fraternity.

Socialist Worker has a copy of The Leopard DVD to give away. To win, name the Hollywood star who appeared in The Leopard. Send your answer to Competition, PO Box 82, London E3 ELH, by 1 September 2004.

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