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1900 Movie Review

alfredo bertolucci attila communism

1976 – Bernardo Bertolucci – <img2.5>

Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 falls into the category of sprawling, novel-like epics that exist in versions of various lengths (Once Upon a Time in America, featuring the same star and composer, is another). The sympathetic, even affectionate, presentation of the rise of Italian communism, coupled with comments from the director about wanting to create an “explosion” by accepting American corporate funding for such a film, caused a controversy at the time of the release. The movie begins in Emilia-Romagna in 1901 on the day its famous son Guiseppe Verdi dies. It is also the day two sons, Alfredo and Olmo, are born to two families on a single estate, the aristocratic line headed by Alfredo (Burt Lancaster) and the peasant workers headed by Leo Dalco (Sterling Hayden). The film follows these two sons to adulthood as they grow, marry, and come to grips with the rise of fascism and communism.

On the whole, the visual element outpaces the dramatic. A number of set pieces and images stand out for their earthiness or repulsion, two tones which recur and come to mark the passing of years. We see, for example, young Olmo decorate his hat with a dozen squirming frogs, and the two boys play on the train tracks as the locomotive approaches (a scene echoed at the end). Grandfather Alfredo's naked feet ooze into cow manure before he hangs himself. To bring down the curtain on the film's first half, the fascist Attila (Donald Sutherland), lecturing some onlookers on the foolish open-heartedness of communism, takes a cat (“you care about one cat, you start to think about others”), strings it to a wall with his belt, and then runs at it and smashes it to a pulp with his head. Sutherland's villain is by far the most stereotypical character, an indication of the director's unsubtle polemic. (Bertolucci doesn't disappoint his audience—or cat lovers for that matter—in giving Attila his comeuppance on liberation day in 1945 when he is hunted down by peasants in an open field; Attila's final fate has him staggering about stuck full of pitchforks, a human pincushion.) A compelling collection of scenes rather than a smoothly developing narrative, 1900 is an acquired taste.

Cast: Robert De Niro (Alfredo Berlinghieri), Gerard Depardieu (Olmo Dalco), Dominique Sanda (Ada Fiastri Paulhan), Donald Sutherland (Attila), Francesca Bertini (Sister Desolata), Laura Betti (Regina), Werner Bruhns (Ottavio Berlinghieri), Stefania Casini (Neve), Burt Lancaster (Alfredo Berlinghieri, the grandfather), Sterling Hayden (Leo Dalco), Anna Henkel (Anita), Ellen Schwiers (Amelia), Alida Valli (Signora Pioppo), Romolo Valli (Giovanni), Giacomo Rizzo (Rigoletto), Pippo Campanini (Don Tarcisio), Paolo Pavesi (Alfredo as a Child) Screenwriter: Franco Arcalli, Bernardo Bertolucci, Giuseppe Bertolucci Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro Composer: Ennio Morricone Producer: Alberto Grimaldi MPAA Rating: R Running Time: 255 minutes (from 320 minutes) Format: VHS, LV.

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