Blu-ray Review: 1900

1900 Blu-raySTUDIO: Olive Films | DIRECTOR: Bernardo Bertolucci | CAST: Robert De Niro, Gerard Depardieu, Burt Lancaster , Donald Sutherland, Sterling Hayden, Dominique Sanda , Alida Valli, Stefania Sandrelli
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 5/15/2012 | PRICE: Blu-ray $39.95, DVD $29.95
BONUSES: 2002 documentary on Bertolucci
SPECS: NR | 315  min. | Drama | 1.78:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 | English and Italian with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall


Coming off his 1970 international arthouse triumphs The Spider’s Stratagem and The Conformist and the ground-breaking 1972 erotic drama Last Tango in Paris, Italian master Bernardo Bertolucci shot for the heavens with his epic  film 1900, which arrives on Blu-ray in all its five-hour-plus glory.

Well, “glory” might be a bit too triumphant a declaration–it’s not a “glorious” film–but 1900 can rightfully be considered one of the world cinema’s most audacious and ambitious projects of the past half-century. A bold examination of the changing social and political climate of 20th century Italy, the film’s grand sweep grows from the seeds of its quite-intimate portrait of two friends, both of whom are born in the film’s opening minutes on January 27, 1901, the day of Verdi’s death.

1900 movie scene

Robert De Niro (l.) and Gerard Depardieu star in Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900.

Set in Bertolucci’s ancestral region of Emilia in Northern Italy, the same-day birthday boys are Olmo Dalcò (portrayed as an adult by Potiche’s Gerard Depardieu), the grandson of an estate farm foreman (Sterling Hayden, The Killing), and Alfredo Berlinghieri (who grows up into Stone’s Robert De Niro), the grandson of the estate’s wealthy owner (Burt Lancaster, Sweet Smell of Success). It’s the landowner’s hiring of a nasty fascist-in-the-making named Attila (Donald Sutherland, The Eagle) as the estate’s new foreman that sets the film’s dueling ideologies of socialism versus fascism into motion.

As the two youths grow to adulthood (and ultimately old men!) and marry (Alfredo’s troubled wife  Ada is played by the luminous Dominique Sanda), they live their lives while Italy goes through countless upheavals. The men’s stories—filled with episodic landmark events, personal conflicts and strained relationships—mirror the political and social turmoil of their ever-changing country.

Again, it’s ambitious, sprawling stuff, and a lot of it isn’t pretty, particularly in detailing the effects of fascism in the film’s second half and the violent, graphic nature of Attila’s embracing of the movement. But Bertolucci’s obvious passion for 1900 and his ardent approach to the material is so pure that one can truly feel it while watching the film.  That the cast is excellent (Lancaster offers one of his finest late-career performances here) and Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography is stunning doesn’t hurt either.

On Blu-ray, 1900 can be likened to a kind of cinematic banquet, filled with all sorts of flavors, tastes and colors, spread out over an extended evening that contains plenty of peaks and, yes, it’s share of valleys. Rarely has a film’s outdoor cinematography presented the  colors and textures of the seasons so provocatively—autumn harvest in the fields, winter snows in the city, blooming poppies in the spring and so on. Even if 1900‘s sometimes difficult-to-follow politics and occasionally disturbing sequences are not to one’s taste, there’s always the sumptuousness of the presentation to fall back on.

Many of the members in the international ensemble appear to have spoken their native languages in the film, led by De Niro and Lancaster, who emote in English, of course. On the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English language audio track, one can see that handful of other performers were dubbed into English. Watching that can be a bit distracting, but not so much that it detracts from the film. Overall, the audio quality is well-above average—the dialogue is crystal clear and Ennio Morricone’s rich score receives the respect it deserves.

A DVD version of the hour-long 2002 TV documentary Bernardo Bertolucci: Reflections on Cinema is included as a bonus feature. Directed by Sandro Lai, it includes dozens of interview snippets with Bertolucci from past decades, along with the requisite film clips and behind-the-scenes footage.

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.