(out of 5)
Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu are born on the same day at the very beginning of the twentieth century, one the grandson of the padrone (Burt Lancaster) who has ownership of the peasants who work his land, and the other Lancaster’s own illegitimate son with one of the farm labourers. They are best friends as children and in adulthood remain intimate, De Niro ambivalent about his position as a man who enjoys his power and longs to wield it responsibly, but determined not to be the selfish tyrant that his father was. When we reach the thirties and more black shirts are being worn and the tide of class power being turned, it leads to the overtaking of fascism that has marked Italy in the decades since, with Depardieu becoming a communist hero who knows it is high time for change. This sumptuous five-hour masterpiece by Bertolucci is never boring for a second despite its mammoth weight, brimming over with outstanding sequences of visual splendor thanks to Vittorio Storaro’s gorgeous cinematography, and Bertolucci’s own fearlessness with ripe imagery. Graphic threesomes, gruesome murders (Donald Sutherland couldn’t even watch himself in the movie) and all the pleasures of life both high (classy dinners) and low (warmly lit barn dances) abound in a film that seeks to understand the extremes of a country marked by vicious, dehumanizing capitalism that eventually led to an equally vehement revenge. Some of the plotting is a bit ripe (Sutherland’s villain has more relation to Hellraiser than Mussolini) and Dominique Sanda‘s supporting role as De Niro’s increasingly hysterical wife leaves a lot to be desired (try not to laugh your head off when she screams “I’M BLIND!” while driving). The film’s ultimate downside, however, is that big-budget financing means casting the film with English-language stars amid the Italian actors in lesser roles, so whether you watch the English or Italian soundtrack you’re getting half the cast poorly dubbed and the self-conscious sound of the dialogue track is distracting. The story is too involving for this to be a dealbreaker, however, and the lure of the characters’ melodramatic conflicts is intoxicating.
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Cinematography by Vittorio Storaro
Produced by Alberto Grimaldi
Music by Ennio Morricone
Costume Design by Gitt Magrini
Film Editing by Franco Arcalli