1900 (original Italian title Novecento) is a 1976 epic film starring Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu, Dominique Sanda, Donald Sutherland, Alida Valli and Burt Lancaster, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Set in Bertolucci's ancestral region of Emilia, the film chronicles the lives of two men during the political turmoils that took place in Italy in the first half on the 20th century.
After World War I, their friendship continues, but slowly the rise of the fascists as embodied by the sadistic Attila (Sutherland) separates them. Alfredo despises the fascists, but decides to stay out of politics, while Olmo fights them.
A lot of the commentary on the dynamics of fascism and communism can be found in Bertolucci’s illustration of both families’ internal relationships and interactions. In the Dalco household, there is a sense of warmth and solidarity. While proud, they are also warm and loving with Olmo and provide him with positive attention. Meanwhile, Alfredo experiences the opposite environment. He is mistreated and condescended to by his father and grandfather when he is growing up; scolded, chastised and beaten. Alfredo, while experiencing the comforts of affluence, is emotionally and psychologically bankrupt. Olmo is raised in a community, while Alfredo is a product of isolation and alienation because his personal relationships in his well-off childhood were impersonal.
Alfredo also, throughout the story but beginning in childhood, has a poor sense of self, rather he is told who he is and is compliant to authoritarian figures to “put him in his place”. Olmo, on the other hand is instilled with pride from birth, especially from his interactions with his grandfather. A key element in examining Olmo’s childhood is the fact that he is illegitimate and throughout the film, his father’s identity is never proclaimed, as it is relatively unimportant. Olmo is raised by his entire clan, rather than by a single father figure; he is brought up knowing the joys and fruitfulness of living in a communal society. Alfredo on the other hand is determined and bound to the identity of his father and his grandfather as well. Therefore, it is Alfredo who is envious of the proud, content Olmo. Bertolucci clearly uses this relationship (among other things) to dispel the mistaken notion that money equals happiness. It is Olmo who grows up richer; he is more exposed to the world, more aware of his relationships with others, and more confident in his convictions and actions. The intimacy and lack thereof in their respective relationships with others is highlighted in their love lives. Alfredo marries a gorgeous, demure woman while Olmo marries Anita, who like him shares in the enthusiasm of the cause of worker’s rights. Alfredo’s wife, Ada, sinks into alcoholism when confronted with the reality of the emptiness of her relationship with Alfredo. Anita, a strong and independent spirit dies tragically an almost martyr’s death; she dies in childbirth, bringing another member into the community. As Olmo takes on his fateful role of leader among the poor farmers and their families, a fascist authority is introduced in the character of Attila. While Alfredo symbolizes the compliance of the weak-willed, Attila is the monstrous fascist, who goes on to marry Alfredo’s cousin Regina and who cruelly reigns over the farmers.
The power however shifts after the war, and the ruling class is at the mercy of the jovial and bitter peasants in the town. Earlier in the film, Alfredo had been unwilling to help Olmo in his time of suffering because he was jealous of him even then, jealous at what he could not take away from him. Now, it is Olmo who oversees the trial of Alfredo, who is put under scrutiny for his fascist alliances during the war. Bertolucci, whose political leanings have been publicly socialist oriented, is putting across a message in this epic movie. While the power of the socialists is not rooted in traditional power factors such as class, they hold power in terms of virtue and honesty during the entire film. It is this power that in the end endures; as the fascists’ power is rooted in the temporal such as money, land ownership, etc.
Grimaldi then locked Bertolucci out of the editing room, and assembled a 180 minutes cut. Bertolucci, horrified at Grimaldi's cut, decided to compromise. He cut the film to 255 minutes, and this was the version that was initially released in America. In 1987 The Bravo channel broadcasted the uncut version with dubbed dialogue. Later in 1991 the film was restored to its original length and shown in a limited release.
When Bertolucci released his 311-minute version to theaters the MPAA re-classified the film with an NC-17 rating; the 245-minute American cut, the other version officially available on video in the U.S., still retained its R rating. In 2006, Paramount surrendered the NC-17 rating of the uncut version, then released it on DVD on December 5 2006.
While the original U.S. release received mixed reviews, with many critics commenting on how choppy and difficult to follow it appeared due to many scenes having been excised, critics who saw the restored version consider it a vast improvement. Leonard Maltin classified the original US release as a "glorious mess" while the restored version was labeled "potent but still choppy".
di Giovanni, Norman Thomas. Novecento. Milano: Euroclub, 1977 (published in the U.S. and UK as 1900). A novel based on the film.
Gerard, Fabien S., T. Jefferson Kline, and Bruce Sklarew, eds. Bernardo Bertolucci Interviews. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi P, 2000.
Kline, T. Jefferson. Bertolucci's Dream Loom: a Psychoanalytical Study in Cinema. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts P, 1987.
Tonetti, Claretta M. Bernardo Bertoluci: the Cinema of Ambiguity. London: Twayne, 1995.