BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI’S 1900 — A REVIEW IN NOTES BY GUEST CRITIC & FILMMAKER DAMIAN K. LAHEY

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‘1900’ Director’s Cut (1976) dir. Bernardo Bertolucci

Two children are born on the same day in Italy in 1900. One belonging to the land owner class and one to the working class. This epic film chronicles their lives through decades of friendship amidst the rise and fall of fascism in their country. Here are 20 things I took away from it.

1. No small feat. This film is 5 hours and 17 minutes long and I never once found it boring or tedious. It moves along at a brisk pace. I watched it in one sitting.

2. There are moments where Bertolucci’s direction, Morricone’s score and Storaros’s photography come together in a way that is absolutely MAGICAL. Goose bumps just thinking about it. In many ways this film is a cinema lover’s dream come true.

3. While this film is painterly in its compositions and lush in its production value – it is at times extremely cold and obscenely graphic. VERY harsh.

4. I had never seen Gerard Depardieu NOT fat before. It blew my mind. Svelte, dashing and handsome…wow. He gives an extremely passionate performance worthy of the revolutionary spirit of his character.

5. Robert DeNiro is remarkably young and daft here and does a fine job as a man who knows the right thing to do but lacks the moral courage to act on it.

6. Dominique Sanda is all class as the tragic free spirit who finds her life suffocated by the dominating presence of the fascist guard.

7. As the chief fascist foot soldier, Donald Sutherland has never been more sinister. Super nasty!

8. The appearance of Burt Lancaster in this film is worth noting as he was a very outspoken anti-war Hollywood tough guy. His casting seems to be a strategic move by Bertolucci – signaling from the outset that Hollywood’s liberal war horses had signed off on the film’s message.

9. Surprisingly, Stefania Casini (‘Suspiria’, ‘The Blood Stained Shadow’, ‘Andy Warhol’s Dracula’) gives the film’s most tender and nuanced performance as the epileptic prostitute who comes into the picture at two very crucial points. The emotional warmth she gives to the material makes one wonder what more scenes like this could have done for the film.

10. The dubbing is pretty ruddy, folks. As someone not bothered by dubbing, it’s pretty noticeable here. You’ve been warned.

11. This film does a great job conveying that in times of extreme injustice and oppression, the WORST offenders are those in a position to do something about it but choose to do nothing.

12. The infamous scene where you get to see both DeNiro & Depardieu’s ding-a-lings is very awkward. I have tried to intellectualize it within the political context of the story and it just doesn’t work for me.

13. The history Bertolucci presents in this film is one convenient for the narrative. The fascists assumed power by appealing to the very people they came to oppress – the poor working class. Bertolucci skips over this for a more black and white version of the events by romanticizing the put upon communist peasants and demonizing the fascist coddling rich folk. Given this film is 5 hours and 17 minutes long I believe he had room for a more historically accurate and nuanced representation of the facts.

14. However, to speak to what I just wrote – this is a political piece first and a historical piece second so to quibble over historical accuracy is probably foolish. This is a take down of fascism from Point A to Point B. Belting you in the face with a frying pan would be more subtle than this film is.

15. I admire this film for showing the emotional as well as financial pettiness that often permeates the upper class thus further emphasizing their detachment from the rest of us.

16. There’s a scene where people pull loads of shit out of a horse’s ass with their bare hands.

17. The release of this film was mishandled so many different ways it’s impossible to keep track. Somebody lost A LOT of money on this one.

18. Given the fall of the United States to authoritarian fascism this past year, ‘1900’ is certainly an appropriate watch. I’ll stop there. Things could get ugly if I delved into that further.

19. Bertolucci paints a comical and touching picture of the ‘what do we do now?’ crowd that suddenly found themselves empowered after the fascsists were driven out. I felt exposing their naivety as well as the perils of hypocrisy they faced to be spot on.

20. Surreal closing of the film points out that the back and forth between the classes has always been and will always be.

 1900pts

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