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Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno (Conversation Piece) (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

March 6, 2012 by  



Considered as Luchino Visconti’s “last will & testament”, “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” (also known as “Conversation Piece”) is another magnificent Visconti film and a personal film that I appreciated in so many levels.  “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” has always been one of my favorite Visconti films and it’s definitely a film that I highly recommend!

Images courtesy of ©RAROVIDEO 2012. All rights reserved.

DVD TITLE: Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno (Conversation Piece)

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1974

DURATION: 125 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Color, 2:35:1 (16×9), Monaural

COMPANY: RaroVideo

RATED: NOT RATED

RELEASE DATE: March 13, 2012

Directed by Luchino Visconti

Story by Enrico Medioli

Screenplay by Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Enrico Medioli, Luchino Visconti

Produced by Giovanni Bertolucci

Music by Franco Mannino

Cinematography by Pasqualino De Santis

Edited by Ruggero Mastroianni

Production Design by Mario Garbuglia

Set Decoration by Carlo Gervasi, Dario Simoni

Starring:

Burt Lancaster as Il Professore

Helmut Berger as Konrad Huebel

Silvana Mangano as Marchesa Bianca Brumonti

Claudia Marsani as Lietta Brumonti

Stefano Patrizi as Stefano

Elvira Cortese as Erminia

Philippe Hersent as Portiere

Guy Trejan as Venditore di quadri

Jean-Pierre Zola as Blanchard

Romol Valli as Micheli

The setting for Conversation Piece is a handsome old Roman palazzo owned by a Professor (Burt Lancaster), an aging, American-born, Roman bred art historian who devotes his life to his books, his paintings, and his stereo recordings of Mozart. His life is turned upside down when his house and his intellectual life is invaded by a rich, pushy, overdressed marquesa, played by Silvana Mangano, the wife of a Fascist industrialist, and her teen-age daughter (Claudia Marsani), her young German lover (Helmut Berger) and her daughter’s lover (Stefano Patrizi). These four characters are able to persuade the Professor to lease them his upstairs apartment for a year and what unfolds is a truly revealing exploration of the idle rich, their kinky side, and what the stuffy old professor can learn from them.

For Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti, although his oeuvre may not be as lengthy compared to Roberto Rossellini or Federico Fellini, he is among the few that have crew created films that not only were beloved in his country, but have remained cinema classics worldwide.

Visconti was also involved with filmmakers Rossellini, Fellini, Puccini, Pietrangeli and De Santis in collaboration in creating the first Italian neorealist movie “Obsession” in 1943.  Breaking away from neorealism in the ’50s, Visconti pursued realism and romanticism and set his own path of creating films that were personal.

Well-known for directing theatre and opera but for cinema, he is best known for creating masterpiece after masterpiece such as “The Leopard” (1963), “Sandra” (1965), “The Damned” (1969), “Death in Venice” (1971), and for many, his films such as “La terra trema”, “Bellissima”, “Senso”, “Le notte bianche”, “Rocco and His Brothers” and “The Stranger” would also rank high on the list for many cineaste.

But one film would also rank high among cineaste, some may consider it another masterpiece and that was his 1974 film “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno”, also known as “Conversation Piece”.  Winner for “Best Film” at the David di Donatello Awards”, “Blue Ribbon Awards”, “Fotogramas de Plata”, “Kinema Junpo Awards” and the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists”, the film would receive recognition worldwide.

But also, the film would be known as Visconti’s “Last Will & Testament”.  In an interview with actor Burt Lancaster, Lancaster said that Visconti told Lancaster that the character he was playing was him.  Lancaster said, “I knew that the old man I was playing was him.  He told me another time, ‘This is my life.  I am very much alone.  I never knew how to love.  I never had a family.'”

And now this classic Visconti masterpiece has arrived on DVD (March 2012) and a Blu-ray release (scheduled for April 2012) courtesy of RaroVideo.  As the film has had its fair share of being censored (due to the political dialogue and profanity in the film), the version featured on DVD is the uncut version.

“Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” is also a personal film for Visconti.  The film would be critical of the Jet Set high society lifestyle, the film would star Visconti’s partner Helmut Berger but the film also was a comeback for Visconti who was incapacitated due to health reasons.

This comeback for cinema would be the second-to-last film that Visconti would write and direct before his death due to a stroke two years later.

While the film’s titled “Gruppo di famiglia in Un Interno” describes the internal situation of a family, the English title “Conversation Piece” refers to artwork of 18th Century English paintings, typically of a group engaged in conversation but also a reference to the protagonist’s observance of a wealthy family and their way of engaging in conversation.

“Gruppo di famiglia in Un Interno” revolves around a recluse professor (played by Burt Lancaster, “From Here to Eternity”, “Airport”, “Atlantic City”) who lives in a luxurious palazzo in Rome.

The professor invests his money in collecting conversation piece artwork and displaying it around his home and is passionate about learning of the conversations behind the painting and the characters depicted in the paintings as well.

But he lives his life in peace with no disturbance.

The film begins with the Professor deciding if he wants to purchase a conversation piece artwork but unsure if he wants to pay the high price for it.  As he considers purchasing the painting, another woman who he assumes is the owner of the painting is waiting in his home.

The wealthy woman, Marquise Bianca Brumonti (played by Silvana Mangano, “Death in Venice”, “Teorema”, “Dune”), her daughter Lietta (played by Claudia Marsani) and her boyfriend Stefano (played by Stefano Patrizi) tell the Professor that they want to rent out the room above the professor’s palazzo for an entire year.  She has seen the statues and the room from high above and since she has the money to pay for renting the room, she hopes the professor will say yes.

The professor is adamant that he has no desire to do that as his plan was to use the room to display some of the art and antiques he has collected over the years.  So, his answer is “no”.

The following day, as the Professor has decided to purchase the painting he was deciding on, he finds out that someone has purchased it.  Next thing you know, Lietta and Stefano come to the Professor’s room and informs him that the Brumonti family has purchased the painting and will gladly give him the painting if he allows them to live in the room above.

Seeing how far this family would go to get the room and since it’s only for a year, the Professor gives in.

And as the Professor goes on to his normal business, all of a sudden his peaceful moments are disturbed by sounds from the room above.  It appears that work is being done in the room and a man named Konrad Huebel has taken residence inside the room.

The Professor quickly finds out that the room he will be renting out to the Brumonti is actually for her daughter, her boyfriend and Konrad Huebel (played by Helmut Berger, “Ludwig”, “The Godfather Part III”), the paid lover of Marquise Bianca Brumonti.

The Professor could care less about the people who live there but he just wants his silence.  Konrad informs him that the room is his and he can do what he wants but he was not told by the Marquise that the room was just rented for only a year.  The Professor then witnesses the volatile communication between both Konrad and the Marquise.

As Konrad apologizes to the Professor, the two talk to each other and they begin to share a commonality.   As they continue to talk, the Professor is surprised to see how much of an intellect Konrad is.  Despite being young and brash, Konrand has an appreciation of  classical music but also, surprised that Konrad is showing some knowledge and appreciation of the conversation pieces around the Professor’s library and sure enough, the two have a pleasant conversation.

But the reclusive Professor starts to be bothered by the family above as they are noisy and intrusive, while the Marquise’s presence always leads to an argument between her and her paid lover Konrad, Lietta Brumonti starts to enjoy spending time with the Professor (which he finds bothersome) and immediately, these new tenants start to change the life of the reclusive professor.  And he finds himself bringing dragged into their lifestyle.

As we see flashbacks of the Professor’s old life when he had a woman at his side, we start to learn that his life changes because he begins to see this new family now becoming part of his family, because the young adults are spending more and more time with him.

As the Professor starts to help Konrad in various situations, Lietta starts to joke with him that because Konrad respects the Professor so much and she can see that he cares about him, he could be like the son that he never has.  Jokingly saying that the Professor should adopt him.  As ridiculous as it may sound, the Professor has always wanted to pass on his knowledge to someone who would listen to him.

Being a lonely man for so long, this is the first time in a long time in his life where he feels that he almost has a family and that he has been developing a father-and-son bond with Konrad.

But the more he spends time with this family, things begin to unravel and will change the lives of the Professor and the tenants forever.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” (Conversation Piece) is presented in 2:35:1 (16×9) and in English monaural.  It’s important to note that for those who want the best version of this film to date, RaroVideo will be releasing a Blu-ray version in April 2012.

With that being said, “”Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” (Conversation Piece) has been digitally restored.   The picture quality of this DVD is amazingly good for a near 40-year-old film.  Considering how much we have seen in terms of restoration of Visconti films in the last two years for DVD and Blu-ray release, I have watched this film before and the film looked its age.

Because this film rarely takes place outside of the professor’s home, you really can’t tell this is a 1974 film.  The colors look very good and I detected no major defects with picture quality.  Granted, in HD, I would expect to see much more detail and noticeable light and warmer colors.  But for DVD, picture quality is good as one can expect.

As for audio, audio is presented in monaural, English dialogue is clear and understandable.  As with the music and noises emanating from the tenant’s room.  But it’s a clear soundtrack that had no hissing, crackling, pops or any issues.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno (Conversation Piece)” comes with the following special feature:

  • Interview with Alessandro Benccivenni – (9:33) Film critic and screenwriter Alessandro Benccivenni talks about Luchino Visconti and the making of “Grippo Di Famiglia in Un Interno”.
  • Original Trailer – (3:46) The original theatrical trailer for “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno (Conversation Piece)”.

EXTRAS:

“La Visita” comes with a slipcover case and an 18-page booklet featuring critical analysis by Mark Rappaport and a Luchino Visconti biography.

“Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” is a film that has always hit me in so many levels.  As I appreciate its humorous take on high society, it’s almost dreamlike surreal situations that often take place,  I enjoy how the film was cleverly written and his ability to allow his obsession of politics especially sexuality be displayed in his films.

And like so many other Luchino Visconti films that I adore, this film was also intriguing for me in the fact that it was a personal Visconti film.

If a filmmaker could predict his own demise, what kind of film would you make?   I look towards Andrei Tarkovsky’s “The Sacrifice” as an example.  As a fan of Luchino Visconti films, “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” was a film that I had looked differently at compared to any other films in Visconti’s oeuvre.

Mainly for the reason as the more you research Visconti’s work, you begin to research him not only as Visconti the filmmaker but also as an individual.  As a man who is an aesthete, his films can depict an acerbic tone, some may be towards the society, politics or even sexuality and while “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” is no different, especially when compared to his film “Death in Venice”, but this film, it appears that he is also directing this scathing tone towards himself.

I have read that this legendary Italian filmmaker felt lonely.  Never had a family.  May it be depression or something that happened within his life that gave him that state of mind, the fact is that in this film, he has created a character based on himself and asks the question, if you have art.  If you have music.  If you have these expensive possessions that many people acquire with wealth, is it still enough to fill the void in life, if you don’t have love or family?

We often read about many classic Hollywood celebrities who lived the final days of their life as recluse and for the character of the Professor, he chose his passion over love and family.  And when that opportunity came to have people in his home, he begins to realize how much it meant to him, despite having wealth and all the possessions that he desired.

Visconti’s “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” is a film that has a message that life is short and one should be able to live life to its fullest.

The film parallels the life of the Professor and Visconti not only in life but also in the manner of death.  Not to say that Visconti could have predicted how his last years of his life would be on this planet but somehow he knew that his life would not last that long while making this film.  Premonition, intuition?  Who knows.

But in the film, the Professor felt a new synergy in his life when he starts to consider the new tenants almost like a part of his family, moreso for the Professor and Konrad.  In real life, Visconti and Helmut Berger (who plays the character of Konrad) were a real life couple and in the film, the relationship between Konrad and Konrad Huebel) was like father-and-son.  A father wanting to take care of someone.  But when you look at the context of life and cinema, was there more to it?  Was there an underlying message between the Professor and Konrad and the real life Visconti and Helmut Berger.

This is my take and my personal opinion but when I first watched this film and knowing a little about Visconti’s life, it was my feeling that Visconti knew he wouldn’t have a long life and discovered the love and passions in his life quite late.  Would he have a much more fulfilling life if he pursued love and family earlier on.

In the film, we see how the character Lietta tells the Professor how she turns him on and if he asked her to marry him, she would.  But he tells her that he doesn’t have much time and the characters then get into a discussion about his life and family.  With the professor wanting to share that passion of art and music with someone but as much as he thought that the enjoyment of life was embodied in the art that he has collected, it’s been far too long since the Professor was able to care for someone.

The great artist Salvador Dali once ridiculed Visconti’s lifestyle by saying that “he was a communist who only liked luxury” and Visconti’s character of the Professor was similar but perhaps it was a wakeup call for Visconti that he needed to change his life, not place so much into luxury but towards love but his discovery of that was possibly a little too late.

Visconti may have felt that because of his older age and ill health (it is said that Visconti smoked up to 120 cigarettes a day), he didn’t have much time to live and so, thus “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” became known as the director’s last will & testament.

And for me, that is why I appreciate this film on a different level compared to Visconti’s other films.  This is a man near death, putting his heart and soul to this film with a character about himself but yet, in Visconti-fashion, he is able to create this idiosyncratic film.

And while this film is enjoyable, one of its most controversial moments is when we realize who Konrad really is and when “Conversation Piece” was screened at the 1975 New York Film Festival, it was not well received.  Possibly the most problematic part of this film that I have read over time is the casting of Helmut Berger to play Konrad.  A plaything for a woman possibly in her ’50s and his involvement in a movement which I don’t want to spoil but yet it was hard for others to take in because Helmut Berg looked very young for his age.  This has always been a sore point for certain viewers who felt his character looked “too good” and “too young” to play the part.

But for those who have watched a Visconti film, there has always been an underlying premise of silliness. Does everything have to be right?  One should know from a Visconti film by now that things, especially with characters are imperfect.  For me, I was never bothered by the casting of Berg and it was no surprise that he was in the film as well.  This is a story by Visconti, about Visconti and as the Professor has discovered a new meaning to life with Konrad, Visconti in real life found love with Helmut Berger and both Visconti/Professor knew the one thing they did not have was time.

As for the DVD release, RaroVideo has continued to impress me release after release.  Picture quality is good on DVD and considering this is a new digital restored film, I was quite impressed of how good this film looks compared to an older release in which the film did show its age.  But “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” doesn’t look like a 1974 film because the quality of the video is pretty good.  But with that being said, it’s also important to remind those wanting to purchase this film is that a Blu-ray version of this film will be released a month later.  So, if you want the best picture and audio quality, you may want to wait for the Blu-ray release.

Overall, “Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” is a Visconti idiosyncratic film that I have enjoyed over the years.  Yes, “The Leopard”, “Death in Venice”, “Senso” and many other Visconti films can be considered as magnificent, but I have to put this film high on my list of favorite Visconti films because of its grandeur, its beauty, its humor, its absurdity, its acerbic tone and message.

“Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” may be known as Visconti’s last will & testament but it’s also a film that everyone can relate too.  Life is short, enjoy it while you can.

“Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno” (Conversation Piece) is highly recommended!







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