Conversation Piece

The last film Visconti lived to complete, Conversation Piece opened the New York Film Festival in 1975 in a shortened English-dubbed version that was greeted with hisses, groans, laughter, and critical derision. It has since been re-issued in a full-length Italian-language version, with English subtitles, and is now coming to be regarded as one of Visconti's major works, as witness this response from Kevin Thomas in the L.A. Times, reviewing the May 1978 premiere of the authentic print:

“For anyone who was moved by the films Visconti made in his 35-year career, Conversation Piece is likely to seem a masterpiece, a triumph of subtle expressiveness that easily overcomes the sometimes tinny sound of the dubbed Italian dialogue. In one of the finest performances of his career, perhaps his best since The Leopard... Burt Lancaster stars as a wealthy American who has retreated from the world into the dark Roman palazzo he has inherited from his Italian mother.” In a recent Film Comment article on Visconti, Donald Lyons observed that Conversation Piece “is permeated by an autumn melancholy, but laced as well with something akin to slapstick. An old art historian and collector (Burt Lancaster) rents the flat upstairs to a rich Roman matron (Silvana Mangano) and her glibly amoral, epicine gigolo (Helmut Berger). The result is, on one level, a very Italian comedy of mayhem in an apartment house; on another, a rich and unmistakably personal treatment of an old theme, the invasion of a refined and sensitive intelligence by the anarchic-erotic forces of the Id.”

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