Luchino Visconti – Gruppo di famiglia in un interno AKA Conversation Piece (1974)

The year is 1972. Master Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti is struck down by a stroke, rendering him, one would think, unable to continue making films—and this just two years after hitting a late-career high point with Death in Venice. But like many artists kept alive by their muse, Visconti heroically persevered, managing to complete two more films before finally succumbing to a heart attack in 1976. Adaptability being a key ingredient to any sort of artistic longevity, Visconti took his ailments not as hindrance, but as a challenge toward the realization of a new project. Taken by a story written by past collaborator Enrico Medioli and intrigued by the cinematic restrictions afforded such an intimate character study, Visconti—now very limited in his physical movements and activity—saw both personal and logistical promise in this tale of aging, nostalgia, and generational divide, which was entitled Conversation Piece after an illustrated novel of family portraits of the same name by Mario Praz. And the finished product, which indeed found Visconti working on just a few sets and stages and with only a handful of actors and longtime collaborators, while lacking the grandeur of such celebrated works as Senso and The Leopard, ultimately found inspiration in its limitations, and to this day stands as one of Visconti’s most personal, if necessarily least dynamic, works.

The perceived inability for an aging man to connect to a younger generation or even simply the outside world is a conceit that Visconti denied as reflective of his own situation at the time, yet Burt Lancaster—wisely playing his character of “The Professor” in direct correlation with the man he’d come to know so well over the prior decade—quickly identified the familiar traits that Visconti, Medioli, and co-screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico imbued in this character. Resistant to change, the Professor has it instead foist on him when a divorced, hedonistic noblewoman rents the upper room of his old-style Italian duplex, her and her entourage—which includes her new lover, daughter, and her daughter’s boyfriend—upending the old man’s routine and convictions with their decadent displays of consumerism and sexuality.

Death looms large over Conversation Piece. And not just Visconti’s, but also, not coincidentally, the Professor’s; small glimmers of past lives (his wife, played by Claudia Cardinale, and his mother, by Dominque Sanda, both feature in brief flashbacks) and extracurricular interests (homosexuality is hinted at obliquely via a small hidden room where the Professor allows the marchesa’s young lover to spend the evening with him) are purposefully thwarted by his prized art collection which seemingly works as a salve against his discontent. The final scene brings with it a glimpse of realization on behalf of the Professor, one which Visconti himself may very well have never achieved. But Conversation Piece, as a “last will and testament” (as many have come to indentify it), feels both like a stylistic and thematic reconciliation on the filmmaker’s behalf, and as such a work of important insight into one of the cinema’s great anomalies.

2.49GB | 2h 01mn | 1024×436 | mkv


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