Five Reasons: Luchino Visconti’s Conversation Piece (1974)

luchino visconti
What up my friends? It’s been a while since I’ve done a Five Reasons. Why? Well, this section is dedicated to the classics of cinema and I’ve been watching more recent films lately and the few classics I’ve checked out haven’t really inspired me. However a friend of mine mentioned this film to me and since I love Luchino Visconti, but hadn’t seen Conversation Piece (original title: Gruppo di famiglia in un interno) I decided to check it out last night, and let me tell you it’s fantastic. So I’d like to thank my kind friend for once again recommending a great movie and I hope you enjoy this (hopefully) brief piece on it. Here are five reasons why I recommend Luchino Visconti’s Conversation Piece

1. Visconti’s Immaculate Style
Visconti's Immaculate Style
It’s no surprise, the man has incredibly great taste. If you’ve seen any of his films you know that. The costumes, the sets, the makeup: Everything looks absolutely immaculate and perfect in a Luchino Visconti film. Style is hard to learn. Visconti came from a wealthy and privileged family. Etiquette, class and poise were part of his upbringing. As an auteur, he brings a lot of his background and his personality into his films, which is great because it helps them feel more authentic and real. What I especially enjoyed in this film (like in The Leopard) are the costumes. At the beginning of the film it’s even mentioned what brands the actors are wearing and that the furs are by Fendi. I love stuff like that.

2. Burt Lancaster
burt lancaster
Burt Lancaster is the protagonist of Conversation Piece. He is the main character. The film’s success depends in large part on his performance and credibility and of course he knocks it out of the part. Just a spectacular performance. He doesn’t overplay the character of “il professore” (the professor). He is il professore. It’s a pleasure to watch him on-screen. I liked him in The Leopard, but I think they dubbed him (yeah, they used to do that shit with old Italian films) and so that took away a lot from his performance, but here we can enjoy Burt to the fullest. Naturally, it also helps that the character is beautifully written by Visconti and his co-writers. He is a three dimensional, relatable, realistic character. By the end of the film you really feel like you know him and not only that, but I’m connived that he existed somehow, somewhere. It’s that good.

3. The Bourgeois Charm
The Bourgeois Charm
Related to the first point (Style), but I always enjoy films about the rich. There’s something inherently fascinating about them. Like I said, Visconti came from a “good family” (buona famiglia, like we say in Italian) which means he knows what he’s talking about. However he wasn’t the typical bourgeois. He had very left-wing (communist) ideas, which was unusual for rich people at the time, but of course being an artist and a thinker he was more than just his origins. In Conversation Piece some of his ideas about social class are explored. Visconti is also interested in showing how having money does not necessarily equate being refined. Money can’t buy class. The so-called “new riches” will always stick out and someone who’s poor and not of good family may know more about the arts than them. Of course I could go more political, but that shit’s boring.

4. The Mysterious Characters
The Mysterious Characters
The characters of Conversation Piece are true enigmas. Just when you think you’ve figured them out you’re just left speechless. Creating mystery is one of the most difficult things for a storyteller, but also one of the abilities I admire and envy most in the masters of the genre. In this case, the mysterious characters help creating an uneasy, weird and at times uncomfortable atmosphere. This only helps you relate more to Burt’s character, who’s trying to figure out what the hell’s going on himself. Just like him, we would like to know what the fuck those petit bourgeois are up to. They definitely made me paranoid while watching this film. I started making theories of what they were really about, but by the end you get a glimpse of who they really are and still I didn’t know if that was all. Very carefully crafted and detailed work. This aspect of the film also reminded me of Roman Polanski’s The Tenant another film about odd neighbors and paranoia.

5. The (Family) Drama
The (Family) Drama
If there’s something I look forward to in movies it’s the drama. Not the “Oh, I’m going to make a film that’s going to make you cry and feel so bad” type of drama, but the real-life, people fighting and arguing drama. The realistic drama. The drama that comes from human interaction. The inevitable drama, better yet the family drama. In this film Burt doesn’t really have a family, he’s a lonely man. He chose his loneliness. He wants to protect his loneliness, but then this screwed up family comes along and forces itself onto him. By the end of the film he has no choice, but to accept them and possibly even love them as if they were his real family.

Maybe when I re-watch this film I’ll be able to appreciate this aspect even more, but for this first viewing since I didn’t know that I could trust any of the characters (aside from il professore) I was always suspicious and kept asking myself “Why the fuck doesn’t he just kick them out of the house (or calls the cops)?”. Again though, that wouldn’t fit the character, because he’s got class and charm he could never do that, it wouldn’t be socially acceptable.

Those are my five reasons. What are yours?

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