Novecento (Part 1)

Novecento (Part 1)
1900 (Part 1)

Set in the countryside of the Province of Emilia in Italy, the story of two men, one a bastard born into a family of farm workers, the other an heir to a wealthy family of landowners.


“Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 (1976) was a monumental act of hubris. Clocking in at 5 hours 16 minutes, it was butchered by distributors, released to mixed reviews and indifferent audiences, a colossal letdown after Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris proved an international smash. It’s hard not to admire 1900, an engrossing, absorbing historical pageantry for all its preachy excess. 

Alfredo Berlinghieri (Robert De Niro) and Olmo Dalco (Gerard Depardieu) are born simultaneously in 1901 to northern Italian landowners and peasants, respectively. Their childhood friendship's underscored by tensions between Alfredo's father Giovanni (Romolo Valli) and his workers, led by Olmo’s grandfather Leo (Sterling Hayden). After World War I, Olmo becomes a Marxist, while Alfredo inherits the family estate, including fascist foreman Attila (Donald Sutherland). Under Mussolini heir relationship grows strained, with Alfredo’s wife Ada (Dominique Sanda) driving him to distraction while Olmo and Attila clash. After Mussolini falls, a reckoning's in order. 

1900 has a luxuriant texture and craftsmanship more often associated with novels than cinema. Bertolucci employs a scope that David Lean and Francis Ford Coppola could only dream about, covering 50 years and dozens of personages in engrossing detail. It’s a Marxist national epic that pairs agitprop with spectacle, a paean to mass action peppered with vivid characterizations. Periodic concessions to vulgarity lightly mar its high-flown pretensions.”

Groggy Dundee1


“As noted by Roger Ebert, in an otherwise derisive review (and maybe this is also a grievance), the synopsis of 1900 “might resemble Genesis, filled with marriages and births, deaths and murders, rivalries and betrayals and thefts and passions.” And so it is. Written by Bertolucci, his younger brother Giuseppe, and Franco Arcalli, who also wrote Last Tango in Paris and would work on the story for Bertolucci’s Luna (1979), 1900 opens on Liberation Day, April 25, 1945, where the impending end of World War II is abrupt and unexpected (so unexpected that a young man is instinctively shot as an enemy combatant before he can scarcely mutter, ‘The war is over…’). As word of liberation spreads throughout the countryside, so too does a vengeful reckoning. It first takes down, most vehemently, the vicious Fascist couple of Attila Mellanchini (Donald Sutherland) and his female companion Regina (Laura Betti). The retribution then reaches resident padroné Alfredo Berlinghieri (Robert De Niro), whose pensive expression upon confrontation hints at the reflection to come, a subdued cue that sends 1900 back to the turn of the century when two children are born on the same day, the day, as it happens, of Giuseppe Verdi’s death: January 27, 1901.

Jeremy Carr2


« 1900 peut être lu comme un hymne au peuple par un bourgeois, l’aventure d’un bourgeois qui se projette dans le rôle du prolétariat à l’aide d'un film. »

Joël Magny1

  • 1Joël Magny, « Dimension politique de l’œuvre de Bernardo Bertolucci de 
    Prima della Revoluzione à Novecento, » Mécanique filmique, juillet 2006.

UPDATED ON 11.01.2024
IMDB: tt0074084