The Film (4/5)
A rich and retired American Art Professor (Burt Lancaster) is surprised one afternoon when a group of eccentric people try to rent out a section of his huge apartment in Italy. The Professor just wants to live alone with his art and his huge library, but the group trick their way into moving in. As the construction on the apartment begins and Konrad (Helmut Berger), the kept lover of the group, begins to settle back into his criminal ways, The Professor is close to a breaking point.
CONVERSATION PIECE (1974) is an interesting self-contained drama, that plays out like a play from hell. The characters are all broken in some way and the emotional tension rises to a tragic finale. Yet the movie is an interesting document of people trying to connect. The problems and compromise they have to do, which is ironic when you know the behind the scenes stories. The director, Luchino Visconti, suffered a stroke shortly before beginning this movie. With its use of one location with few sets, the movie could be made by the ill director. The compromise of settling for this atmosphere reflects nicely in the movie.
The themes of aging and failing to connect are huge in the movie. The Professor is paranoid by the outside world and is afraid to face people and their problems. He constantly listens through doors or over hears conversations and noises. He watches from afar as the drama builds to the ending. The composition and wide screen frame also isolated him in the almost castle sized apartment he owns. The movie also shows The professor’s dread of aging and references his love for already dead people within his painting collection. The movie does show some hope as The Professor connects with Konrad and accepts and maybe is even enticed by Konrad’s openly free love sexuality.
With this being a Luchino Visconti (DEATH IN VENICE, THE LEOPARD) movie, the production design is simply exquisite. The apartment is a world of its own with its hidden rooms, and gigantic library that is over filling with books, to the point where it’s almost comical. As for the cast, Lancaster (THE SWIMMER) and Berger (Jess Franco’s FACELESS) both give powerhouse performances. Lancaster is both wise and yet scared and regretful. Berger seems like an intelligent man, but keeps falling for his past mistakes. Silvana Mangano (BITTER RICE) is tragic and funny as the Marquise. Claudia Marsani (HIRED GUN) is cute as button as Lietta, the only grounded character in the movie. Stefano Patrizi (MURDER OBESSISSON) plays Stefano the character that seems to actually tip off the drama.
Audio/ Video (4/5)
This Eureka Region B Blu-ray comes with two audio options. First up is the English LPCM 2.0 channel track. Some of the audio is slightly muffed. However most of the track is fine. It’s great hearing Lancaster speak his own lines. Next up is the Italian LPCM 2.0 Channel track. This track is slightly deeper and not as muffed. The sound mix on both is great with no peaking volume of hiss. The soundtrack by Franco Mannino flows in the movie without raising the volume. Of the two, The English works better, as the movie itself was filmed that way. There’s two English subtitles. One for the English script and one for the slightly different Italian.
The transfer is 1080p HD. The movie looks great with some minor issues. The tops of the screen, especially in the library sense, are blurred and the corners of the frame share this problem. There’s also some film grain that pops up that’s a little rough. The picture overall is clear, just a tidy bit soft. The colors pop, and the composition is nicely severed by the transfer.
*Also included is the region 2 DVD.
First up is an interview with screenwriter and film critic Alessandro Bencivenni. There’s a massive documentary called Luchino Visconti: The Quest for the Impossible. The Documentary covers Visconti’s Career and talks about his stroke and the origin of this movie. Next is the original trailer for the movie. And to round out the package is a 20-page booklet of liner notes that include an essay by critic Pasquale Iannone and plenty of archival images.
CONVERSATION PIECE is an effective and touchy movie about people who seem lost in their own world. The performances of both Lancaster and Berger, are worth the price of admission alone. This Eureka Blu-ray also gives the movie a somewhat handsome release. So for fans of well-crafted Italian dramas check it out. Highly Recommended.