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A retired American teacher leading a solitary life in a luxurious palazzo in Rome meets a lively marchesa and her companions, including her daughter and her lover. He rents them an apartment, and his quiet lifestyle is changed in a profound way by his colorful new tenants.
For more about Conversation Piece and the Conversation Piece Blu-ray release, see Conversation Piece Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on July 23, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Luchino Visconti
Writers: Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Enrico Medioli, Luchino Visconti
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Helmut Berger (I), Silvana Mangano, Claudia Cardinale, Dominique Sanda, Stefano Patrizi
» See full cast & crew
Conversation Piece Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, July 23, 2013
Luchino Visconti's "Gruppo di famiglia in un interno" a.k.a "Conversation Piece" (1974) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of French label Gaumont. The supplemental features on the disc include an original French trailer for the film and a new documentary produced by Dominique Maillet. In English, French, or Italian, with optional French or French SDH subtitles for the main feature. Region-Free.
The great Burt Lancaster plays a retired American professor who lives alone in a giant palazzo in Rome. He spends most of his time reading and enjoying his large collection of expensive paintings.
The beautiful and unusually aggressive Marchesa Bianca Brumonti (Silvana Mangano, Theorem, Riso Amaro) appears and announces that she would like to rent the top floor apartment in the palazzo. She is accompanied by her outspoken daughter Lietta (Claudia Marsani), her daughter's boyfriend (Stefano Patrizi, Liberi, Armati, Pericolosi, Quale Amore), and her notably younger bi-sexual lover Konrad (Helmut Berger, Salon Kitty, The Secret of Dorian Gray). The surprised professor attempts to explain that the place is not for rent, but the persistent Marchesa quickly makes it clear that she always gets what she wants. The overwhelmed professor then quickly chooses to surrender.
Soon after the Marchesa and her family move into the new apartment, the ceiling literally cracks and then almost collapses. The concerned professor immediately visits the place and discovers that the Marchesa and a team of workers have started redecorating it with ultra-modern pieces. Despite his protests, eventually the Marchesa once again forces the professor to raise a white flag.
Meanwhile, bored by the daily activities in the palazzo, Lietta, her boyfriend, and Konrad organize a small pot-orgy. Attracted by the loud music, the professor surprises the participants but is lectured by the perpetually angry Konrad. Shortly after the party ends, the professor is forced to intervene yet again after two of Konrad's communist pals attack him and break his nose.
Luchino Visconti's tragicomedy Conversation Piece is a chamber version of his legendary The Leopard. It is about the end of an era and the arrival of a misunderstood freedom that will change everything and nothing.
The film is structured as an elaborate theater play. It was a brilliant decision on Visconti's part as the contrasts between the main characters become that much more obvious. The professor is a dinosaur representing the old-fashioned, exhausted and looking for peace upper class in an Italian state where the unstable socio-political climate has forced people to choose sides. The brash Marchesa is part of the new elite – too flashy, lacking the intellectual humility of her predecessors. Konrad is the radical revolutionary whose anger is compromising him better than any of his opponents could.
The beauty of the film comes from its impressive ability to be outrageous and stylish at the same time. Visconti isn't kind to its characters, but not a single one of them is abused. As naïve or bizarre their behavior might be at times, their integrity is never questioned.
Originally titled Gruppo di Famiglia in un Interno, Conversation Piece was completed in 1974. At the time Visconti was nearly paralyzed after a stroke and was forced to direct the film from a wheelchair. The Italian director completed his final film, L'Innocente a.k.a The Innocent in 1976.
Conversation Piece was lensed by the great cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis, who also collaborated with Visconti on the legendary La caduta degli dei (Götterdämmerung) a.k.a The Damned (1969) and a few years later Morte e Venezia a.k.a Death in Venice (1971).
In 1975, Conversation Piece won Best Film and Best Foreign Actor (Burt Lancaster) awards at the David di Donatello Awards.
Conversation Piece Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Luchino Visconti's Conversation Piece arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of French label Gaumont.
Gaumont's presentation of this excellent film is quite the revelation. Unlike Raro's Region-A release, this release isn't plagued by heavy electronic noise. Unsurprisingly, depth and detail are far more convincing during close-ups and larger panoramic shots. The color-scheme is also drastically different. The harsh reds, blues, greens, and browns, have been replaced by far better balanced, better saturated, and more natural colors (compare screencapture #2 with screencapture #19 from our review of the Raro release). Brightness levels have also been adjusted. Predictably, the harshness of the Raro transfer is nowhere to be seen. Finally, there are no traces of excessive degraning corrections, though a few very minor adjustments have been performed (see screencapture #8). Still, this is a very pleasing organic presentation that allows one to experience Conversation Piece in an entirely different way. (Note: This is a Region-Free Blu-ray release. Therefore, you will be able to play it on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location. For the record, there is no problematic PAL or 1080/50i content preceding the disc's main menu).
Conversation Piece Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are three standard audio tracks on this Blu-ray release: English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0, Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0, and French DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. For the record, Gaumont have provided optional French and French SDH subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
The original English track is very good. Depth and clarity are consistently pleasing. Also, there is absolutely no problematic background hiss whatsoever. There are a few small fluctuations (dynamic movement) popping up here and there where some overdubbing was done, but they are indeed inherited. For the record, there are no audio dropouts or distortions to report in this review.
Conversation Piece Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Conversation Piece Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you are looking to add Luchino Visconti's Conversation Piece to your library, I urge you to avoid Raro Video's Region-A release and obtain Gaumont's Region-Free release. It is vastly superior - it uses a new high-definition transfer that allows one to experience the film in an entirely new way. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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