The Leopard (1963)

A One of the 15 films listed in the category “Art” on the Vatican film list. SDG Original source: Catholic Digest

“Ours is a country of arrangements,” Prince Don Fabrizio Corbera of Salina tells his chaplain, Father Pirrone, in Luchino Visconti’s monumental, melancholy historical epic The Leopard, based on the novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Another translation for “arrangements” is “compromises.”

The year is 1860, toward the end of the wars of the Italian Unification, or Risorgimento. General Garibaldi has just captured Sicily — the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, as it was then known — annexing it as part of what was soon to be called the Kingdom of Italy. Garibaldi had wanted a republic, but had to settle for a constitutional monarchy under Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of the united Italy.

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Directed by Luchino Visconti. Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli, Romolo Valli. 20th Century Fox.

Artistic/Entertainment Value

Moral/Spiritual Value

+1

Age Appropriateness

Adults

MPAA Rating

NR

Caveat Spectator

Mature themes including unchastity and romantic complications; a scene of urban revolutionary violence. Subtitles.

Garibaldi was staunchly anti-Catholic, and two years later attacked Rome, the capital of the papal states governed by Pope Pius IX, though his own government hadn’t sanctioned this and the city was defended by Napoleon’s troops. In 1870, when Napoleon’s troops finally withdrew and Italian forces captured Rome, Pius IX defiantly declared himself a “prisoner in the Vatican” — a status maintained by his successors through Pius XI, when the Lateran Treaty of 1929 recognized the sovereignty of the Holy See, creating the state of Vatican City.

One comes, like these Redshirts, as a cultural sightseer to The Leopard, with its palatial grandeur, replete with lavish, painterly images of the bygone glory of the Italian aristocracy: already in their own day semi-mythological figures, as we see in a vignette in which Father Pirrone, tries to explain to the common people the mysterious ways of the nobility: “They live in a world apart, not created by God, but by themselves.”

The Leopard is full of such “arrangements” or “compromises.” The arrangement with which Don Fabrizio is principally concerned is the coming détente between his class, the Italian aristocracy, and the popular forces, notably the Piedmontese, who have backed Garibaldi’s conquest of Sicily. Many of Don Fabrizio’s fellow noblemen are fleeing for their lives, but Don Fabrizio believes little real change is imminent. “The middle class doesn’t want to destroy us. They simply want to take our places — and very gently.”

Sure enough, when a contingent of Garibaldi’s volunteer Redshirt forces arrive at Don Fabrizio’s palatial villa, they come as sightseers, even addressing the prince as “Excellency.” As they gaze up at the famous frescoes gracing the ceilings, the prince names the various larger-than-life mythological figures hovering above them: Jupiter and Juno, Mars, Venus and Mercury, Thetis and Apollo — ”all of them,” Don Fabrizio adds, pointing out the coat of arms, “glorifying the house of Salina.” Another “arrangement”: the gods of antiquity glorifying the lords of today (soon yesterday).

Drama, Foreign Language, Vatican Film List, Vatican Film List: Art