In 1963 the noble-born Italian director Luchino Visconti released Il Gattopardo, his most personal and operatic film (and that, in a c.v. that includes Death in Venice). The Leopard, as it comes to us Anglophones, based on the Lampedusa novel of the same name, tells of a Sicilian prince fighting off the revolutionary pressures of the Risorgimento (the unification of Italy in the late 19th century, duh). Never one to stint on opulence and style, the great decadent Visconti went hogwild painting the tableau of palace life around Prince Fabrizio of Salina, and picked up a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his troubles.
Burt Lancaster is glinting and ferocious as the prince while Alain Delon is at his rakish best as his troublesome nephew. Claudia Cardinale makes a glittering appearance at the eye of a storm of dinner jackets in the most famous ballroom dance in film history. And even if Rocco and his Sons was Visconti’s favorite among his films, The Leopard is certainly the most stylish. The newly restored 201-minute print, part of “To Save and Project: The Eighth MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation” at New York’s P.S.1 this Friday and Saturday, shines up what Martin Scorsese called, “one of the greatest visual experiences in cinema.”