Published Feb 15, 2007
I’ve liked this 1976 movie — all five hours of it — ever since seeing it years ago at a marathon screening in my late, lamented hometown rep house. Its epic socialist sentiments are as broadly drawn and hopelessly naïve as ever but its contradictory ambition keeps me watching for the duration. Robert DeNiro and Gerard Depardieu play polar opposites as an heir to a rural Italian "padrone” and a bastard child peasant, respectively. The film tracks their progress from childhood, when the pair can actually be friends despite the gulf of class that lies between them, to WWII and the well-heeled boy’s ascendance to powerful man protected by the fascists. The film would have you believe that the peasants were unwaveringly socialist in their sympathies and that the battle lines were clearly drawn, but no matter: the film is such a sprawling soap opera that it keeps you going throughout its many dead spots and amorphous structure. Worth it alone is Donald Sutherland’s performance as a villainous fascist, who not only supports Mussolini but kills cats and molests children as well. As a Bernardo Bertolucci film, it lacks the immaculate design of The Conformist and the psychological nuance of Last Tango in Paris, but its total commitment to some heavily simplified ideas is somehow more poignant to me than either of those movies. It’s the work of a true believer and my hat is off to the moneymen who backed this wildly communist extravaganza for a gross and unseemly amount of money. Extras include two brief featurettes that interview Bertolucci and DP Vittorio Storaro on the subject of both the planning/casting and production/release of the film.