Thursday, 9 June 2022

1900 (Novocento) (1976)



Welcome to Bertolucci’s massive socialist manifest.

It is truly amazing what you can get away with when you are a famous director, known for making controversial but highly successful movies. After his success with “Last Tango in Paris”, Bertolucci got away with making what can only be described as a suicidal project.

On the face of it “1900” (“Novecento”) is a sympathetic enough idea. Two children are born on the same day in 1901 on the Berlinghieri farm in Italy. Alfredo is the grandson of the owner of the farm, the Padrone, Alfredo the Elder (Burt Lancaster), and Olmo is the illegitimate son of one of the Berlinghieri peasants. We follow them as children, young men (as Robert De Niro and Gérard Depardieu) and as adults. When Alfredo’s son Giovanni takes over, times get tough for the peasants and while Alfredo, the younger lives an idle life, Olmo becomes a glowing communist.

With the rise of fascism in Italy, the new foreman on the farm, Attila (Donald Sutherland) introduces fascist methods on the farm as well. He is an enthusiastic fascist and a complete psychopath. Olmo and the peasants have a hard time and Alfredo is too weak to dismiss Atilla when he takes over as Padrone. When the war ends, the farm becomes a communist commune with a lot of singing and dancing and incomprehensible speeches.

Sounds decent enough, except that this relatively simple story takes five hours and 15 minutes to complete! I am not kidding, I basically watched three movies worth of Italian social realism. Long movies are not necessarily a problem if the time is well spent, but this was an ordeal.

Behind the appearance of realism this is an almost cartoonishly stylized story. The landowners are evil fascists, the peasants are the innocent heroes fighting for liberation under a communist banner. Attila and his blackshirts are evil bastards. Olmo is the hero with integrity who always does the right thing, while Alfredo is a weak man protected by his wealth who has the power but not the will to do the right thing. This story is so black and white that it is almost comical. Meanwhile we are supposed to believe that despite all this Olmo and Alfredo are best friends. Yeah…

Bertolucci also felt a need to give us some shock effects. The sex and the nudity is tasteless, but mostly harmless. Just unnecessary, really. The cruelty of Attila on the other hand is so extreme that I seriously considered simply cutting the movie after he kills the boy, Patrizio, in one of the worst scenes I ever watched. I felt sick to the bone, and this is part of the reason it took me two weeks to get through this mess.

Because Bertolucci felt the need to drive home his points this aggressively, it feels like heavy-handed propaganda to make Moscow blush. It loses the credibility it so much wants to have, sacrificed for a political agenda and the corners it needs to cut renders large parts of the movie rather incomprehensible. The bigger sacrifice though, is that as a viewer I lose interest in the story and the characters and remember, this is a five hour long movie!

The usual problem on Italian movies with strange dubbing that disconnect the actor from his or her voice seems almost a minor issue. I chose Italian language because it is an Italian movie in Italy, but how weird is it to see Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu and Donald Sutherland speak Italian?

Unless you are looking for an inspiring movie for your next (very long) meeting at the local socialist revolution club, I would not recommend this movie on anybody. Find some other three movies. At least one of them will be time better spent.


  1. You are a braver person than I. My interest in seeing this faded as soon as I knew the running time. - Bea

    1. I honestly thought it was a mistake. Only when I saw it spanned two disks did it really sink in. Yet the length is not the biggest problem here. You did well evading this one.