Conversation Piece (film)
Conversation Piece (Italian: Gruppo di famiglia in un interno) is a 1974 Italian drama film by director Luchino Visconti. The film name refers to an informal group portrait, especially those painted in Britain in the 18th century, beginning in the 1720s. The film explores such themes as the collision between old and new, imminence of death, existential crisis and social gap between generations.
|Gruppo di famiglia in un interno|
|Directed by||Luchino Visconti|
|Written by||Suso Cecchi d'Amico|
|Produced by||Giovanni Bertolucci|
|Cinematography||Pasqualino De Santis|
|Edited by||Ruggero Mastroianni|
|Music by||Franco Mannino|
|Distributed by||Cinema International Corporation|
|10 December 1974 (Italy)|
23 June 1977 (U.S.)
|Language||Shot in English; in Italy was released dubbed into Italian|
The film features an international cast including the American actor Burt Lancaster, the Austrian Helmut Berger, the Italians Silvana Mangano and Claudia Cardinale (in a very short role as the professor's wife), and the French actress Dominique Sanda in a cameo as the professor's mother. The movie was shot in English language; however, an Italian dubbed version was also produced at the time, in which Lancaster's and Berger's lines are dubbed into Italian by other actors.
The film was censored in Spain for the nude and political content and because Francisco Franco's daughter and son-in-law are mentioned. Nevertheless, it was re-released there, uncut, in 1983. The word cunt was removed from its UK original release but restored on the British DVD edition.
A retired American professor (Burt Lancaster) lives a solitary life in a luxurious palazzo in Rome, surrounded by pieces of art and books. He barely maintains contact with people other than his long-time housekeeper Erminia, but even that contact is characterized by detachment. One day the Italian jet set in the form of the rich but vulgar Countess Brumonti (her husband is a right-wing industrialist who does not appear) rings his doorbell. The countess manages to talk the professor into renting the empty apartment on the upper floor of the palazzo to her, her much younger German lover Konrad Huebel (Helmut Berger), her teenage daughter Lietta, and Lietta's fiancé (or maybe just boyfriend) Stefano.
The professor is calmly disturbed by the pushy new tenants, who immediately have their apartment rebuilt, examine the professor's apartment for clues to his past, throw parties, and have amorous experiences with each other (including Konrad with the countess's daughter). But in addition to the annoyance, the professor feels animated by the young people; he is particularly drawn to the provocative, opaque Konrad. Konrad's past as a gigolo and as a leftist radical in the protests of 1968, who then slipped into drugs, is alluded to—a sharp contrast to the professor's former completely different life that had been shaped by an aristocratic upbringing and the experiences of World War II. Occasionally the professor sinks into memories of his former wife and mother. The professor and Konrad have a common interest in art and become closer friends after Konrad is beaten up one night because of gambling debts and the professor finds him and provides medical care.
The professor invites the countess, Konrad, Lietta and Stefano to a dinner at which he calls them his "new family" and at the same time expresses satisfaction that they have brought liveliness to his measured life with their move-in. However, a dispute arises among his guests about Konrad's dubious past and his relationship with the countess. Although she wants to separate from her husband, she does not want to marry Konrad, who is significantly younger and is socially beneath her. Konrad then reveals that he spied on her husband for supporting extreme right-wing groups. This was not for business, but for fear of being arrested in Spain's Franco dictatorship. The countess and the young conservative entrepreneur Stefano then distance themselves from Konrad. The professor rejects their reactionary views, but does not intervene to support Konrad.
Konrad goes upstairs after saying goodbye to his new "father" by letter he signed "Your son", suggesting that they would probably not see each other alive again. Immediately afterwards there is a gas explosion in which Konrad is killed. The professor blames himself for Konrad's death and falls seriously ill. The last scene shows him on his deathbed when the countess visits him with Lietta. The countess tells the professor that Konrad committed suicide, in order to hurt everyone who loved him—but that Konrad was too young to realize that, in time, everyone would forget him. After the countess leaves the room, Lietta tells the professor "Don't believe her. He didn't kill himself; they murdered him." Lietta leaves; the professor is now alone. Becoming overcome with grief or despair, he gazes upward and clasps his hands as though in prayer to God or to something he might long to believe in.
- Burt Lancaster as The Professor
- Helmut Berger as Konrad Hübel
- Silvana Mangano as Marquise Bianca Brumonti
- Claudia Marsani as Lietta Brumonti
- Stefano Patrizi as Stefano
- Elvira Cortese as Erminia, Professor's housekeeper
- Romolo Valli as Michelli, Professor's lawyer
- Philippe Hersent as the Porter
- Jean-Pierre Zola as Blanchard, art salesman
- Guy Tréjan as second art salesman
- Umberto Raho as the Police inspector
- Dominique Sanda as the Professor's mother [in flashbacks, uncredited]
- Claudia Cardinale as the Professor's wife [in flashbacks, uncredited]
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 78% based on nine reviews. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote "Mr. Lancaster, fine old professional that he is, is awful, adopting that humble, "Birdman of Alcatraz" manner he uses when employed in what he apparently thinks is serious movie-making. "Conversation Piece" is the kind of fatuous film that the professionally pragmatic Burt Lancaster, the action movie hero, would snort at and leave in the middle of. A Disaster." Louder Than War’s Jamie Havlin gave the film eight points out of 10, commenting "This penultimate film by Visconti is one obviously affected by the director’s poor health. Due to a stroke suffered a couple of years earlier, it became necessary for the filming to be as simple as possible, which meant that everything was a shot in a set constructed entirely in the studio.... The acting is generally very good, especially the lead performance of Burt Lancaster, whose health and vitality Visconti craved during the shoot, while the costumes and sets are immaculately designed and the cinematography, despite the indoors setting, is often outstanding. Few, if any, would regard this as his masterpiece, but Conversation Piece is still a fascinating slice of cinema from a master filmmaker, and though minor by his standards, I’d much rather watch it than anything currently showing at my local multiplex." A reviewer of Time Out London stated "If the dolce vita-style intrusion is given distinctly Jacqueline Susann-like overtones by the rather dissociated dialogue in the English language version, Conversation Piece nevertheless comes across as a visually rich and resonant mystery, far more fluid and sympathetic than Death in Venice." A reviewer of Variety wrote "Conversation Piece eschews the usually operatic, museum-like pix of Luchino Visconti for a touching tale of the generation gap and the loss of life-contact of an intellectual." James Evans of Starburst gave the movie eight points out of 10, noting "As he approached the twilight of his career, Burt Lancaster had made the switch from youthful action star to subtle character acting and that’s in clear evidence here in his sad-eyed, melancholic performance. Visconti creates a world outside of time in the professor’s house (there’s no other set) that’s at once artificially unreal and emblematic of his interior life. It’s a sumptuous and beautiful film, lushly made, contemplative and rich in subtext that should reward further viewings." Adrian Turner of Radio Times gave the film three stars out of five, adding "All the usual Visconti themes—the collision of cultures, the clash between old and new, the imminence of death—are covered in his customary opulent fashion. The film reunited the director with Burt Lancaster, who starred in The Leopard."
- Visconti was inspired in creating the main character of the professor by the Italian literary critic Mario Praz. In an interview Praz recalls how the situation described in the movie (a group of young and loud tenants moving into the old palazzo where he lived, disrupting his peace) happened for real a few months after the movie was released.
- The professor is a collector of conversation pieces, 18th century English paintings. Arthur Devis is mentioned.
- In the film, the cult song by Iva Zanicchi Testarda Io is heard. The aria "Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!", and the Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364, both by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are heard.
- The film refers to Golpe Borghese, Red Brigades and terrorism acts in the history of the Italian Republic in the earliest 70s. Konrad (Helmut Berger) fought in Berlin at May 1968.
- Lietta (Claudia Marsani) recites a poem that is attributed to W. H. Auden, "There's no sex life in the grave".
- The film is a critique of the world of the jet set following Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita.
- Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Nastro d'Argento
- Winner: Best Director (Regista del Miglior Film Italiano) – Luchino Visconti
- Winner: Best Cinematography (Migliore Fotografia) – Pasqualino De Santis
- Winner: Best New Actress (Migliore Attrice Esordiente) – Claudia Marsani
- Winner: Best Producer (Migliore Produttore Italiano)
- Winner: Best Production Design (Migliore Scenografia) – Mario Garbuglia
- David di Donatello
- Winner: Best Film
- Winner: Best Foreign Actor (Migliore Attore Straniero) – Burt Lancaster
- Japan Academy Prize
- Winner: Best Foreign Film
- Seminci, Valladolid Film Festival, Spain
- Winner: Best Film
- "Conversation Piece (1974)". FilmAffinity. Retrieved 23 December 2019.
- "Conversation Piece". mubi.com. Retrieved 23 December 2019.
- "Conversation Piece (1974)". Letterboxd. Retrieved 23 December 2019.
- "Conversation Piece (Gruppo di famiglia in un interno) (1974)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 23 December 2019.
- Canby, Vincent (24 June 1977). "Film: Vulnerable Work by Visconti". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 December 2019.
- Havlin, Jamie (18 August 2016). "Luchino Visconti's Conversation Piece - film review". Louder Than War. Retrieved 23 December 2019.
- "Conversation Piece". Time Out London. Retrieved 23 December 2019.
- "Conversation Piece". Variety. 1 January 1975. Retrieved 23 December 2019.
- Evans, James (9 August 2016). "CONVERSATION PIECE (1974)". Starburst. Retrieved 23 December 2019.
- Turner, Adrian. "Conversation Piece – review | cast and crew, movie star rating and where to watch film on TV and online". Radio Times. Retrieved 23 December 2019.