Review: 1900 (Novecento)
Blu-ray: 1900 (Novecento) (1976)
Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 (Novecento) is a sprawling 317 minute movie that covers seventy years of Italian social and political history, from 1901, the year Verdi died and peasants were still in bondage to the landowners, to the 1970’s.
Novecento follows the lives of two Italian men born on the same day – one, an illegitimate child of peasant farmers, and the other, the son of a wealthy landowner. The story shows how their lives play out from birth to old age – the decisions they make, their relationships, and how their policies and social standings shape both their destinies and the relationship between them.
Despite the differences in their social standings, Alfredo (Robert De Niro), the rebellious son of a wealthy landowners and Olmo (Gerard Depardieu), the son of socialist peasants, become childhood friends. However, as they grow older their lives lead them down different paths. Olmo enlists in the Italian army during the First World War, and Alfredo remains behind as an heir to the family estate, learning how to manage the land and its workers from his father. By the time Olmo returns from the army, Alfredo’s father has hired someone to take a leading role in the management of his estate, in the form of a cruel socialist named Attila (Donald Sutherland). As time passes, Attila’s violent nature becomes more and more apparent, managing the land strictly and treating the workers like animals. He begins killing many of the workers himself to instil fear in them. When Alfredo’s father (Burt Lancaster) dies, Alfredo is left with the duty of being the new “padrone” and does not try to stop Attila’s barbaric behaviour.
Along the way, both Alfredo and Olmo get married and settle down into their lives, as time passes the relationship between the two childhood friends comes under strain as Alfredo starts to become more and more like his father and Olmo becomes a leader for the peasants on the estate. It is at this time that the battle between fascism and communism starts to tear the country apart. When communism prevails, the landowners are left at the mercy of the peasants. It is now that those who oppressed the workers would have to pay for their crimes, especially Attila.
This, it turns out, is the true test of the bond between Alfredo and Olmo. Will Olmo defend his life-long friend from the wrath of his fellow workers, or will he condemn him to his fate?
This, as the similar Once Upon a Time in America, is one of those ‘cram it all in’ historical epics that try to encompass far too much social and contemporary history to work. Perhaps viewed as a more ‘soap opera’ type film instead of a social commentary it works better. It IS beautiful to look at and despite some of the acting being a tad OVER the top and hammy (it’s the Italian way….) it does feature the usual brilliant performances from De Niro, Depardieu, and especially Donald Sutherland as the evil Attila (great name).
As usual Eureka releases a fantastic package. If you’re looking for a Sunday afternoon (morning and night) film for your mum, look no further.