Il Gattopardo
Reviewed by Bill Weatherford

A fascinating film to discover or perhaps rediscover is Luchino Visconti's historical work from 1963, The Leopard (Il Gattopardo).
Its wonderful, multi-layered story is from the novel of the same name by Giuseppe di Lampedusa. The book is still one of the most successful pieces of Italian prose ever written. In twenty-five words or more, the plot is about the patriarch of a Sicilian noble family at the time of Garibaldi and the forming of Italy as a nation. As a story and piece of art, Il Gattopardo is so very much more.

To begin, the film has been re-released in a three DVD set that offers the original Italian version and the dubbed American version that was shortened by 45 minutes and really became a whole different film. Visconti did not like it nor, apparently, did American audiences. The third DVD is full of interviews and commentaries on Gattopardo, the novel's author, the casting, Visconti and other contributors and the historical and social times that merge to create the movie as a whole.

Burt Lancaster was the third choice to play the aristocratic Sicilian count (Lawrence Olivier was choice number two. You'll never guess who was number one!). It is arguably his life's best performance on screen and a surprise to almost everyone, especially Visconti who didn't want "that American Gangster" in his film. Lancaster ended up choosing to study Visconti as his example of what an aristocrat should act and sound like. It was a wonderful choice as Visconti, himself, was a member of Italian aristocracy that was at its end within his own generation.

The film is long, but not too long; the film is slow, but not too slow. The decline and end of a huge person and an old way of life is long, slow thing. Yet when handled by a true and thoughtful artist and his complementing companions, it still can be replete with humor, bittersweet and unapologetic simplicity and honesty. Gone With the Wind tells a similar epoch story of change within a way of life but it sees a future where there's going to be a whole lot of getting even to do. The count in Gattopardo, however, sees a real and natural continuation of the inevitable. It is simply someone else's time. If there is any sentimentality in doing so, it is European: bittersweet and possible.
The sets, costumes, film technique and music are a lovely study of how to support and enhance writing and performance. There is a sense of plan, true depth of knowledge, understanding and control by the director and the actor's respect that permeates the film. That is its most special gift.

What follows is a recipe for “Timballo del Gattopardo” a special part of a holiday Sicilian dinner - try it; try the move. .

Hope you enjoy both.

Timballo del Gattopardo
from 'The Leopard'
(Provided by Bill Weatherford)

For the pastry:
500 g/l lb (31/2 cups) flour pinch of salt
5 nil/I tsp ground cinnamon
150g/5 oz (3/4 cup) sugar
150 g/5 oz (10 tbsp) butter water to mix

500 g/l lb short pasta
1 chicken (3 lb/1.35 kilos)
500 g/l lb piece of beef (optional)
1 stalk celery
I onion or 2 carrots
5 eggs
100 g/4 oz (11/4 cups) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt black pepper parsley
60 ml/4 tbsp olive oil
100 g/4 oz cooked ham
120 g/4-1/2 oz chicken livers
150 g/5 oz (I cup) shelled peas
I small black truffle (an optional extra)

I prefer to avoid the sweet/savory combination so I omit the sugar and cinnamon.
Make the pastry and chill for at least I hour.
Boil the chicken with the small piece of beef, the celery, onion and carrot.
Drain the chicken and strain the stock. Take 200 g/7 oz (about 1/2 cup) of cooked chicken meat and mince (grind) or process it with one egg, two-thirds of the Parmesan, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.
When you have a soft, paste-like consistency, roll it into balls the size of a cherry. Fry the balls in the olive oil, they should barely change color.

Cut the rest of the chicken meat into strips, and cut the ham into similar strips. Simmer the chicken liver for a few moments in a little water with salt and pepper. When cooked cut into small pieces.
Cook the peas. Hard boil the remaining eggs. All the above preparation can be done well in advance.
Roll out two thirds of the pastry to make a circle large enough to line a deep well-buttered oven dish. Roll out the rest of the pastry to make a lid for the pie.
Heat 400 ml/14 fl oz of the strained stock and add the chicken, ham, chicken livers, meat balls and peas.
Remove from the heat. Add sliced truffles if available.
Cook the pasta for half the time stated in the packet's instructions; drain.
Add half the pasta to the meat mixture and put the other half into the pastry case, arranging it around the outer edges and leaving a space in the middle.
Put the pasta and sauce into the middle space and spoon over the top of the plain pasta.
Arrange the hard-boiled eggs, each cut into eight segments, over the top and cover with the rest of the grated cheese.
Cover with the other piece of pastry and seal the edges well with a little milk.
Bake in a moderate oven, 180'C/350'F/Mark 4, for about 40 minutes.

Return to Cinema | Return to Main Page