Bernardo Bertolucci's 255-minute 1900 was a gargantuan undertaking, requiring the resources of three European countries and a trio of American movie studios. Set in the Italian town of Parma, the film's continuity backtracks from Liberation Day in 1945 to the occasion of composer/patriot Giuseppe Verdi's death in 1901. We follow the lives of two men born on that day in 1901, who grow up to be Alfredo Berlinghieti (Robert De Niro) and Olmo Dalco (Gérard Depardieu). Wealthy Alfredo sinks into dissipation, while poverty-stricken Olmo becomes a firebrand labor leader and communist. After WWI, Alfredo is allowed to peacefully retain his land holdings by playing nice with the burgeoning fascists; Olmo, on the other hand, engages in a long-standing battle against the minions of Mussolini. The two protagonists are reunited when Alfredo returns to Parma to preside over Olmo's trial for "political crimes." Co-star Burt Lancaster is cast as Alfredo's wealthy grandfather, who hates to see the old values buried beneath the social travails of the 20th century. Many American prints of 1900 were shortened to 243 minutes, rendering the story hard to follow at times. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
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This reeks of "labor of love," and you will have to see the included interviews to understand why. Turn out the Americans cast in this film were not done willy-nilly, but to help Bertolucci make a point about the cold war. He wanted Russian actors to play many of the other roles, but couldn't get the Soviets to cooperate, so this point, if it could be made, was lost in the casting of the able Depardieu and other Europeans in the other roles. But I doubt he could have succeeded even then because the story here is cast against the very European struggle of Fascism vs. Communism, which to Americans looks like two rabid raccoons fighting over the same piece of rancid meat. I liked the attempt and admired the passion, but the politics muddles what could have been an interesting personal story
This film is just another proof of this Bertolucci's skills and talents both as writer and director. In the 2006 interview he says he had originally thought of a third episode to continue after 1945 when this film ends. I wished he had. This film should be part of any class in European history as it gives the viewer a terrific insight in the Italian life and why communism could take root. In some regards we can see how the "Patrones" today are trying a comeback.
So flawed I feel odd giving it this high a rating. But 2 viewings of this somewhat bloated 5 hour plus film left me feeling the same way. The film is over simplistic in its characters and politics, badly dubbed (with actors from all over speaking their own language, so whatever soundtrack you pick there are characters who sound like something out of âWhatâs Up Tiger Lilyâ), and even the English spoken by DeNiro seems post-recorded, making for an oddly stiff sounding performance. Yet for all these complaints it somehow remains a near-great film. There are so many moments; images, incidents that are indelible, and in the end thereâs enough real emotional punch to this overview of the history of Italy from 1900 to 1945 as seem through the lives of a few people in a small town that it overcomes many of the flaws. But itâs strengths are strong enough that Iâd urge people to judge for themselves, although some may want to hunt down and kill me for the recommendation.