Conversation Piece | Chicago Reader

Conversation Piece

David Thomson has called Luchino Visconti's penultimate feature (1974) a “maudlin portrait” of the director's homosexual relationship with actor Helmut Berger; that may well be the case, but the film is at least as revealing in Visconti's conflicted response to his aristocratic roots. A retired American professor (Burt Lancaster) is hustled into renting an apartment on the top floor of his Roman palazzo to a haughty marchesa (Silvana Mangano); she promptly hands it over to her airy, bisexual lover (Berger), who scandalizes the professor with his sexual escapades (one involving the marchesa's daughter and her lover). Visconti rolls out some heavy left-wing proselytizing in the last half hour, but what really hits like a hammer is Lancaster's realization that these awful people are the only family he's got. Shot in English, dubbed in Italian, and subtitled back into English. R, 120 min.

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