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Great moments stud Bernardo Bertolucci's 1976 Marxist epic, but the end result is ambiguous.
The mannered elegance of the camerawork and lighting cocoons the whole sad mess within a veneer of utterly spurious 'style.'
What high hopes were inspired by Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 -- and how few of them are realized.
It's a shapeless mass of film stock containing some brilliant moments and a lot more that are singularly uninspired.
Bertolucci's concept of the epic is to fashion a living, fluid organism that spans the distances between several poles of extremity: ancient and modern, agony and ecstasy, life and theater, rich and poor.
The sumptuous cinematography by Vittorio Storaro and the beautiful score by Ennio Morricone are reason enough to rejoice.
[VIDEO ESSAY] "1900" (made in 1976) is Bernardo Bertolucci's crowning achievement of collectivist socio-political cinema.
This is a handsome film with fierce and heartfelt ambition that succeeds in capturing something of the extreme social turmoil of pre-war Italy.
Like a delicious pasta salad, ruined with intermittent slabs of Velveeta cheese.
Bertolucci's first failure after a series of masterpieces is an ambitious but structurally shapeless and thematically ambiguous historical epic that doesn't work even in its original cut of five hours.
A colossal bore.
If you've never seen it, go; it's just a matter of too much of a good thing.
'1900' is a gargantuan, multi-lingual, five-hour epic that has some inspired moments but for the most part spins its wheels. Very often it is laughably bad.
Writer/director Bernardo Bertolucci seems to have been inspired by the 'Godfather' epic, even to the point where he hired Robert De Niro as one of his lead actors. But '1900' is vastly inferior to Francis Ford Coppola's 'Godfather' films.
The central gimmick is that two boys are born on the same day on a remote Italian plantation in the year 1900. One is a peasant; the other is the plantation owner's son. The boys become very close and intimate, so much so that they masturbate together on more than one occasion. But they are not boyfriends. As adults they are played by Gerard Depardieu (the peasant) and de Niro.
But Bertolucci doesn't so much care about these men as individuals; he cares about using them to explore issues of class and politics. The two are stand-ins for the socio-political struggles that made the first half of the 20th century so tumultuous, especially in Europe. Depardieu is the Communist-Supporting Peasantry, and de Niro the Fascist-Supporting Aristocracy.
Bertolucci assembled an international cast, with each actor delivering lines in his native language, be it Italian, English, or French. He then added dubbing to release the film in each country with no subtitles. Thus in the American version, de Niro's vocal track is normal, but Depardieu and all the Italian actors are dubbed. And it's the worst dubbing job I think I've ever seen. Dubbing almost never works, but here it's a disaster. Nothing is quite so ridiculous as hearing Italian peasants sound like perky American college students.
The politics are also laughably simplistic and one-sided. The Communists are all depicted as earnest do-gooders, and the Fascists are depicted as those who rape and kill schoolboys and then arrest peasants for these crimes. (There is an odd undercurrent of homo-eroticism through the entire project, complete with de Niro and Depardieu doing full-frontal nudity together during yet another masturbation scene.)
Donald Sutherland plays the biggest, baddest Black Shirt in the village. He does what he can to give the acting credibility, but there's not much you can do when the characterization is so ridiculous. Sutherland's Fascist girlfriend has a bizarre voice that makes her sound like Satan from 'The Exorcist,' which had come out just two years prior. I honestly think that Bertolucci looked for an actress who could do that voice.
Oh, Bernardo, what the hell was going on for you during this strange project?
With over five hours of material to review, one scarcely knows where to begin. Hopeless!
"1900" (Italian title: "Novecento") aims to be a class study of Italy between 1900 and 1945, as depicted through the experiences of two men born on the same day in 1900. Alfredo Berlinghieri (Robert Deniro) inherits a life of comfort and power, while Olmo Dalco (a slimmer Gerard Depardieu) is among the many peasants living and working on the Berlinghieri family farm. Alfredo and Olmo grow up as friends, but always with an underlying, aggressive tension. As years pass, ideological conflicts between fascism, socialism and the old manorial system test the two's relationship more fiercely.
The cast is large though not as large as one might expect, considering the story's scope. Other well-known names include Donald Sutherland as a Blackshirt fascist who helps oversee the farm, Burt Lancaster as the Berlinghieri patriarch (an interesting echo of his somewhat similar role in "The Leopard"), Sterling Hayden as Olmo's father and the always stunning Dominique Sanda as Deniro's moodswinging wife. Seemingly, Depardieu and all the English actors are dubbed in Italian, which can be problematic -- particularly in Deniro's case.
The charismatic leads and director Bertolucci's painterly sense of sets and cinematography add up to a film which is never dull, but I would advise watching "1900" in chunks. There is a break inserted near the halfway point -- take it, and come back the next day.
Because this is the work of Bernardo Bertolucci (director of provocative films such as "Last Tango in Paris," "La Luna" and "The Dreamers"), the story naturally has some twisted sexual elements. Lancaster and Sutherland both commit shocking acts of molestation, and homoeroticism abounds between Deniro and Depardieu (who, incidentally, gives a far more vivid performance). Otherwise, the array of offbeat sights found in "1900" is dizzying to recall. A random sampling? Sanda dementedly feigning blindness. People punching themselves in the head. Someone cutting off his own ear. Depardieu slaughtering a pig. The erection of a boy about 12 years old. A horse's sphincter excreting at close range. Wounded ducks, dying limply in the water. The brutal murder of a child. Suicide. And, strangest of all, an embarrassing nude scene where an epileptic woman gives Deniro and Depardieu simultaneous hand stimulation. Yes! And Deniro fans also can *not* miss the goofy scene where Alfredo experiences his first cocaine rush.
Unfortunately, "1900"'s weakest element is its closing section. Sutherland turns almost cartoonishly evil, and a long sequence celebrating the triumph of socialism over fascism may be the most over-the-top demagoguery since Eisenstein's "October." Depardieu even directly lectures into the camera, at one point. It's a shame that Bertolucci ended on a sour note, by indulging himself so completely. Still, "1900" is simply too unique to be missed.
Bernardo Bertolucci's Novecento has five hours and fifteen minutes and before we know it this historical epic ends and we're left craving for more. That's the ultimate grace of Bertolucci's masterpiece: one never feels the movie's length; it flows and involves us so hypnotically in its story that we lose sense of time. The story is so finely constructed, the actors so good, the cinematography so breath-taking, the music so exciting, that one curses the unavoidable moment when the credits roll down the screen.
Released in 1976, Novecento is, as the title says it, a story of Italy in the 20th century, from its beginning to the year of its release. Known in the USA as 1900, I chose the Italian title because this one misleading. The action starts the year Italian composer Verdi dies, so it's actually 1901 (Bertolucci knows the Gregorian calendar unlike the majority who believe in pop culture). Two children are born, Alfredo and Olmo, the first the heir of the Berlinghieri estate and fortune, the second the bastard offspring of Alfredo's father and a peasant woman from the Dalco clan. They grow together and their lives, although going in different ways many times, continue to intertwine throughout the decades, from the aftermath of WWI to the rise of Fascism in Italy, to the liberation of Italy in 1945; they're always together until their old age.
Novecento is effectively about the organisation of the labour rights movement in Italy and its clashes with Fascism. Olmo (Gérard Depardieu), returned from the WWI, sees communism as a way of uniting the peasants in the struggle for better wages and more rights and end the hunger and humiliations perpetuated by the padrones, the bosses.
Parallel to the labour rights movement's organisation is the rise of fascism, embodied by Attila Mellanchini (Donald Sutherland), the Berlinghieri forearm who organizes the local Black Shirts. In the middle of this struggle is Alfredo (Robert DeNiro), a bon vivant who only seeks pleasure and finds love in Ada (Dominique Sanda), an avant-garde woman who fascinates him with her sense of modernity. Unwilling kept away from the war thanks to his father's money, Alfredo sees Olmo's return as good news until politics and his inevitable fate of becoming the new padrone get in the way, not to mention his inability to stand up to Attila.
The film is shot in four sections, each one employing a different color palette, to represent each station of the year. So the first part, Olmo and Alfredo's birth and childhood, is bathed in bright summer colors; the WWI's aftermath is filmed with autumnal browns. The Fascist reign is grey and drenched in winter rains, and only Italy's liberation gives the movie its bright early colors with the coming of springtime. This is one of the greatest achievements of Vittorio Storaro, a director of cinematography who never ceases to amaze me. He's lent his talent to many good movies over his legendary career (Apocalypse Now, The Conformist, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Reds), but I've never loved the look of one of his movies so much except perhaps in an earlier, much neglected Bertolucci movie called The Spider's Stratagem. Each shot could be a painting.
The actors are also excellent here, especially the veterans Burt Lancaster (who plays Alfredo's grandfather, also named Alfredo) and Sterling Hayden, who plays Leo, the patriarch of the Dalco family. They're in the movie for about an hour, but their performances are amazing enough to leave an impression, especially Hayden's.
As much as this movie is about fascism and communism, it's also about class differences and class clashes, and this is shown in the three Berlinghieri generations. Grandfather Alfredo and Leo have a relationship based on respect and co-dependence. His son Giovanni brings technology and consequently unemployment to his lands as well as the violent Attila to keep the workers in order, and also ends many of the ancestral rights the workers had. His despotic rule marks the beginning of the peasants' consciousness that change is necessary. Giovanni's brother, Ottavio, is his opposite, preferring to travel and enjoy life, much like his nephew. Finally Alfredo simply doesn't care, pursuing self-gratification and allowing Attila to gain power and impose a reign of terror in his lands, with the help of Alfredo's cousin, Regina (Laura Betti).
Donald Sutherland has always had a gift for playing villains but he set a bar too high even for himself to surpass when he played Attila, the sadistic Black Shirt who crushes kittens to make philosophical points about communism, molests children and kills helpless old people. Fans of Sutherland who wish to see him at his darkest and most intimidating mustn't miss this film.
DeNiro, Sanda, Betti and Depardieu are also very good, with Depardieu outshining DeNiro only because he has a more demanding and visible role. Sanda is also good, even if her role is to be basically annoying most of the time. Betti makes a great demonic pair with Sutherland. DeNiro, today the most famous of the actors who worked in this film, delivers one of his typically good performances, but he doesn't reinvent himself like in Taxi Driver or Raging Bull. This is Depardieu's film.
Also worthy of note is Ennio Morricone's score, containing many of his most uplifting compositions. Bertolucci made this film to inflame hearts and rouse consciousnesses, to make viewers leave the cinemas anxious to change society and make the world a better, fairer place, so Morricone's music works perfectly with the images. And even if Bertolucci's goal ultimately failed, the movie is so well crafted its grandiose finale should leave viewers pretty upbeat and hopeful.
No review of Novecento can do the movie justice. It's a work of art, it must be watched.
Keiko's score 100%
A fascinating tale of two young boys growing up in Italy, during the 1900s. One boy, Alfredo (Robert De Niro) represents the rise of fascism and Olmo (Gérard Depardieu) the working class, proletariat. Throughout the 3 and a half hour running time we get to the say the relationship between the two and their families against some stunning cinematography. Bertolucci really has created an underrated little film here and one that seems to have really educated me on the rise of Fascim in Italy and general history of the proletariat and the Bourgeoisie. Interestingly, 1900 was not shown in the US at the time but popular in various parts of Europe.
1900, also contains some great supporting actors: Donald Sutherland, Sterling Hayden, Dominique Sanda, Burt Lancaster and Laura Betti. Donald Sutherland, gave one performance which I don't think I've ever seen him do. The two strong characters for me have to be Sutherland's and Betti's(Attila and Regina). Two fascist characters that carry out some truly gruesome crimes which I won't dwell into and as such go into my list of some of the most evil characters I have witnessed.
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