Novecento (1900) | Bernardo Bertolucci’s ambitious socialist epic is essential viewing – but over several sittings

1900 (Novecento)

With his trademark operatic sense of scale and painterly eye, director Bernardo Bertolucci presents his deeply personal view of the changing face of Italian politics, provincial life, industry and class across five decades – from 1901 to 1945.

Our guides on this five-hour journey are Alfredo (Robert De Niro), the son of the bourgeois landowning Berlinghieri family, whose lands the local peasants want a share of, and Olmo (Gérard Depardieu), the bastard son of one of those peasants, and it is their intense on-and-off (latently homoerotic) friendship and their relationships with the women in their lives that drives Bertulocci’s episodic narrative.

1900 (Novecento)

Epic in scope (I had to watch it over a number of sittings), melodramatic in execution, and displaying its socialist message in every carefully choreographed set piece, this sumptuously shot period drama – featuring another superb score from Ennio Morricone – is Bertolucci’s communist love poem that’s made with both cinephiles and the masses in mind (cue: full on nudity and violence).

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A starry cast are also on hand to ensure it’s international appeal, including Burt Lancaster as the family patriarch who sets the narrative in action; Alida Valli, whose emotional breakdown follows one of the film’s most shocking moments; and Donald Sutherland, who is at his villainous best as foreman Attila, who turns from laughing stock to sickening sadistic fascist over the ensuing years. As the women in the men’s lives, Laura Betti is truly scary as Regina, Attila’s equally depraved sidekick lover, while Dominque Sanda’s vacuous free-spirit Ada is the mirror image of Stefania Sandrelli’s political firebrand Anita.

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Novecento was filmed in the 1:85:1 aspect ratio and is presented here in Eureka’s Masters of Cinema dual format two-disc release, based on a 1080p high-definition transfer with the original running time of 315mins. It also comes with both the English and Italian soundtracks, which caused a fuss in my household as I preferred the English to hear DeNiro and co in their native tongue, while my Italian-speaking pals preferred the Italian as they felt it better reflected the film’s setting. If there is one complaint about the release it is with the menus as changing then from English to Italian soundtracks took a lot of fiddling.


The Story, The Cast and Creating an Epic: Two video pieces from 2006 featuring Bertolucci and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro
Bertolucci secondo il cinema: An hour-long on-set documentary about the making of 1900.
• Collector’s booklet



About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on June 8, 2016, in Classic World Cinema, Must See, Must-See, World Cinema and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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