Masters of Cinema is a line of Blu-rays and DVDs that aims to showcase the work of well-known directors from around the world. 1900 is one of the most recent movies to be brought back under this label. It tells the story of two men who were born on the same day in 1900 but grow up in very different circumstances. Olmo, played by Gerard Deperdieu, is the son of a plantation worker and grows up to be a socialist. Alfredo (Robert De Niro), on the other hand, is a rich landowner and grows up to be a fascist. Because of it’s 5-hour and 20-minute running time the movie is divided up into 2 parts. One on each disc.
1900 is at its strongest when it explores the central friendship between these two characters, with the political history of Italy serving as a backdrop. Deperdieu and De Niro have great chemistry. You can see how their friendship could be formed but you also see the strains on the friendship early on. When they slowly begin to find themselves opposite each other, it feels like the natural path their lives would take them down and not a contrivance of the story.
Unfortunately the film lacks the focus to really capitalise on this friendship or on Olmo and Alfredo themselves. The plot of the movie depends on how the two have developed as people but it often feels like we are only getting the outline of their stories. As a character, Alfredo suffers from this far more than Olmo. His wife criticises the man that he has become but we too rarely get to see this for ourselves. We don't see enough of Alfredo become the man he is accused of being and so accusations against him lack weight. We don't see how Alfredo actually runs the plantation when he inherits it.
The lack of focus on the friendship between the two friends hurts the movie because it means their friendship fails to serve as a unifying theme for the movie in the way that it should. The movie spans 45 years of Italian history and it doesn't feel as cohesive as it could. The many historical jumps that the movie makes do not sometimes come without warning, and occasionally the audience could be forgiven for missing them entirely.
In fairness to the film, this lack of attention to the leads is made up for in part by the attention it gives to its side characters. The most noteworthy of which is Attilla, the foreman of the plantation (played by Donald Sutherland). The audience is witness to his repeated acts of cruelty and as a result it really matters when we see where the choices he has made lead him. Had a similar amount of time been spent with Olmo and Alfredo, 1900 would have been a much stronger movie.
1900 is a strong tale of friendship let down by spending too much trying to juggle all of its component parts without truly managing to blend them into a single narrative. It has strong moments and a great cast but fails from an editing standpoint. Regardless of these flaws, it is still worth viewing.
Special Features: English and Italian uncompressed PCM soundtracks / English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing for the English audio and English subtitles for the Italian audio / The Story, The Cast and Creating an Epic, two video pieces from 2006 featuring Bertolucci and Storaro / Bertolucci secondo il cinema, an hour-long on-set documentary about the making of 1900 / A booklet featuring the words of Bernardo Bertolucci, archival imagery, and more
1900 (1977) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI / SCREENPLAY: BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI, GUISEPPE BERTOLOUCCI, FRANCO ARCALLI / STARRING: GERARD DEPARDIEU, ROBERT DE NIRO, DOMINIQUE SANDA, FRANCESSCA BERTINI, LAURA BETTI / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW