3 July 2003 | David_Niemann
"1900" follows the lives of two friends (although sometimes they seem more like enemies!) born on the same day in a beautiful part of Italy. Olmo is born a bastard to peasant farmers and Alfredo is the son of a wealthy businessman. We watch their lives unfold with vivid cinematography and lush visuals of the exceptionally beautiful countryside. The movie jumps forward, to the end of World War 1, and Olmo returns home after fighting. And essentially the film follows the exploits of the two protagonists as they deal with love, friendship, money, death and the evils of war.
The film unfolds like a finely crafted book, taking its time to tell its story.
Unfortunately, the version that I watched was horrendously dubbed. It was so bad my brother couldn't continue watching. I tried to look past this major fault, as I started to love the film's story and visuals, and it does get better, but I'd be extremely disappointed to find out a subtitled version doesn't exist. And to make matters worse, it was also a Pan & Scan version. This doesn't bother me too much if I'm watching, say 'Mrs. Doubtfire', but "1900" is definitely a wide-screen movie. Some scenes were practically ruined as characters are framed to the extreme right or left. For example, at the beginning where Olmo lays on the train line, I couldn't see him in the wide shot! I couldn't see what was going on. Terrible! And the version I watched came in at about 4 hours and 35 minutes. So it was a cut version, and this is blindingly obvious. The cuts are dreadful. This has to be some of the worst editing I have ever seen in my whole movie viewing life.
But for all these problems (easily solvable problems that have nothing to do with the movie itself (unless the dub is the original)) I fell in love with this movie. I didn't really notice the hours passing by; the story and the characters suck you into their world, and don't let go until the final credits roll. And even then they are stuck in your head, along with the more memorable scenes. I couldn't help but be reminded of my own childhood, even when the scenes had no context to my memories. For instance, the simple setting of workers ploughing a field bought back memories of playing in a big dirt mound in our backyard as a child, or beautifully lit scenes at sunset; I could almost feel the warmth. These memories made me feel really good, and whether it was intended or not to remind the audience of their childhoods, the film certainly had this wondrous effect on me.
I was quite shocked with some of the scenes in this film, especially the rape scene. While there is no sex shown at all (at least in this version), the crying eyes say more than any words or images could. You should be warned this film has some pretty graphic violence and contains a few explicit sex scenes. But the sex scenes are refreshingly realistic, as opposed to Hollywood's fraudulent version of sex.
The acting is, for the most part, admirably handled. Robert De Niro is convincing as the rich son with a poor peasant as his best friend. This role could have descended into cliché, but De Niro steers it clear of any such event. Towards the end of the film De Niro's performance is terrific. It's remarkable that in the same year that this was made, De Niro played a certain Travis Bickle in the seminal 'Taxi Driver.' 1976 was certainly De Niro's year! Gerard Depardieu is wonderful as Olmo. I have never seen a movie of Depardieu's where he was young, and I must say he was very handsome in his day! His performance elicits emotion without settling for sentimentality. The supporting cast do a good job. Burt Lancaster is both charming and divine, yet in one scene I was quite uncomfortable as to where it was going to lead. But he portrays this without the cliché of a `dirty-old-man' but rather a lonely man who may not remember where the line of decency may now lie. Donald Sutherland is disgusting beyond description. No, not his acting, but the character he plays. I haven't seen too many of Sutherland's films (unfortunately, off the top of my head I can only recall 'Fallen') but I'm keen to see more of his work, as his acting here is top notch. And the hunchback (sorry, can't remember his name) is delightfully endearing. Only some small characters have questionable acting talents, but in a film with so many bit parts this may well be expected.
The word 'epic' seems to imply greatly to this film. While the scope and size of the film is epic, the film relies heavily on the lives of the main protagonists. In a way this is an intimate epic, if such a thing could exist.
This is an excellent film that is highly recommended for people interested in Italian history, the landscape of Italy and beautifully crafted films. This particular version is recommended to people interested in gaining evidence that Pan & Scan is the work of Satan and that dubbing should be a sin.
If you enjoyed the films `Schindler's List' and `La Vita é Bella', then I'm sure you'll get something out of this film.
You shouldn't be turned off by the long running time of this film, you get so engrossed with the story the time just flies by. This is certainly an under-rated classic, treated poorly by some versions.
10/10 If in wide-screen, un-cut and subtitled. 9/10 If Pan & Scan, cut and dubbed.
But as I have to give one overall score, I'd have to say 10/10.