Netflix, still blacklisted from the Cannes Film Festival which begins on May 17, draws Visconti’s masterpiece, Palme d’or in 1963. The opportunity to see the last scene again, a long ball of three quarters of an hour where dancing love and death…
Novel by Lampedusa then film by Visconti, Cheetah tells of the end of one world and the beginning of another. Between 1860 and 1862, Italy saw a decisive phase of the “Risorgimento”, its unification into a kingdom, officially proclaimed on March 17, 1861. This revolutionary movement began the inevitable decline of the nobility, replaced by a population freshly enriched but without manners, composed of bourgeois and landowners. This is the case as far as Sicily where, when the film begins in 1860, Garibaldi has just landed. Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Burt Lancaster) observes these upheavals with melancholy, he whose nephew, Tancrède (Alain Delon), falls in love with a monkey, finally with a bourgeoise, Angelica (Claudia Cardinale). During the ball scene, located in November 1862, he resolved to this union. What’s really going on in this scene?
It pretty much sums it all up
The prince’s words are quite explicit: a world of “lions and cheetahs” is about to be replaced by another, where the “Jackals and Hyenas”. No, he doesn’t take the situation very well. During this ball, where the bourgeois arrive at the nobles with their enormous clogs, it is the beginning of the end. Moreover, the prince examines this painting by Greuze for a long time, The Death of the Just, where a whole family surrounds the father on his deathbed. Leaving the palace in the early morning, he turns his gaze to the sky and asks: “Star, faithful star, when will you give me a less ephemeral rendezvous, far from everything, in your land of eternal certainty? »
It closes the film, but not the novel
Although Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa wrote it after all the rest, this scene constitutes the penultimate part of the novel, which continues until 1863 with the death of the prince. Luchino Visconti prefers to stop there, in November 1862, not only because the rest of the book is, according to him, only a “unsightly appendage”, but also because this scene has everything of an excellent conclusion. It intervenes when Garibaldi suffers a first defeat, at Aspromonte, which marks the end of the revolutionary adventure, but also at a time when the bourgeoisie prevails over the nobility, and when the individual trajectories of the three main characters, the prince, Tancred and Angelica find a solution.
A real palace instead of a fake
The scene is shot at the Palazzo Gangi, eight thousand square meters in the heart of Palermo, property of the Gangi family since its construction in 1750. There is a hall of mirrors which is reminiscent of that of Versailles, and a whole bunch of elements that match the descriptions of the Palazzo Pantaleone, a fruit of Lampedusa’s imagination.
An epic shoot
We often talk about the candlelight shooting of Barry Lyndon by Kubrick (1975), but Visconti, twelve years earlier, also sought to eliminate electric lights as much as possible to film this ball. During these eight nights of work, thousands of candles were lit, extinguished, re-lit, to illuminate the three hundred extras. We’re talking about three hundred and ninety-three costumes, one piece of clothing per woman… The fitting started around two o’clock and the shooting at eight o’clock, until four or six o’clock in the morning.
An inexhaustible source of inspiration
Cheetah quickly became a cult film for just about everyone, but perhaps even more so for American cinema, whose Hollywood model was in crisis in the 1960s. The Godfather, by Francis Ford Coppola (1972), and Journey to the End of Hell, by Michael Cimino (1978), open with dantesque wedding scenes, which are obviously inspired by the ball orchestrated by Visconti. But it is undoubtedly Martin Scorsese who was most marked by this film, of which he moreover directed the restoration in 2010. It is enough to see The Age of Innocence to understand.
s Cheetah, by Luchino Visconti. Available on Netflix.
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