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CONVERSATION PIECE (GRUPPO DI FAMIGLIA IN UN INTERNO) (director/writer: Luchino Visconti; screenwriters: Suso Cecchi d’Amico/story by Enrico Medioti/Enrico Medioti; cinematographer: Pasqualino De Santis; editor: Ruggero Mastroianni; music: Franco Mannino; cast: Burt Lancaster (Professor), Silvana Mangano (Bianca Brumonti), Helmut Berger (Konrad), Claudia Marsani (Lietta), Stefano Patrizi(Stefano), Elvira Cortese (Erminia), Dominique Sanda (Mother), Claudia Cardinale (Wife); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Giovanni Bertolucci; Raro Video; 1974-Italy/France-in English)

“A minor Visconti piece.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The talky drawing room comedy is the penultimate film directed by the acclaimed 66-year-old Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti (“The Leopard”/”Ludwig”/”Death in Venice”), who at the time was still recovering from a stroke and chose to do this play-like film rather than the more difficult Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. It’s about loneliness, being an intellectual in a world that promotes a popular crass culture and of an aging man facing the generation gap of his younger guests. In some ways it’s autobiographical of the director, even if Visconti claims in public that’s not so. It’s based on the story by Enrico Mediotiand is co-written byVisconti, Medioti and Suso Cecchi d’Amico.

A refined, self-absorbed, intellectual, retired and withdrawn American history professor (Burt Lancaster), who remains unnamed, lives surrounded by books and paintings and memories of living a more full life in a palatial apartment he inherited from his Italian mom and is obsessed with collecting 18th-century British paintings of family life in domestic settings that are called in the art world a ‘conversation piece.’ The professor’s quiet life is challenged when he is roped into renting his top floor flat for a year to a vulgar, aggressive and wealthy noblewoman, Marchesa Bianca Brumonti (Silvana Mangano), who brings along her lively pot-smoking teenage daughter Lietta (Claudia Marsani), the daughter’s wealthy boyfriend Stefano (Stefano Patrizi) and mom’s angry young bi-sexual kept man, the former student revolutionist, Konrad (Helmut Berger).

The intruders involve the loner professor in their many spats, annoy him by frequently using his phone, break his tranquil mood by playing loud rock music and in hosting a loud sex orgy, and illegally tearing down the walls in the apartment. The professor, it’s sad to say, puts up with their crudeness, rudeness and noise and even lets his hair down to their vulgarities because he realizes this is the only family he has. Also, the professor’s latent erotic homosexual desires are aroused when he pines after Konrad and begins to face his own approaching death.

It’s a minor Visconti piece, but it maintains a certain mystery, class and richness, as it never stumbles into going down a tawdry Hollywood screwball comedy path.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”