This stunning but demanding Marxist epic ran to almost five and a half hours in director Bernardo Bertolucci’s original cut and spans 45 years of Italian political history.
Tracing the rise and fall of Fascism, it uses characters to symbolise entire social groups.
Olmo (Gérard Depardieu) and Alfredo Jr (Robert De Niro) are born on the same day in the year 1901, in the same rural region, one to poor sharecroppers, the other to landowners.
As they grow from childhood friends to antagonistic adults, Olmo becomes an inspirational Communist leader, Alfredo a diffident patron.
The two leads are outstanding, while Donald Sutherland really gets his teeth into the role of Attila – Depardieu’s nemesis, the local blackshirt and De Niro’s foreman, whose cruelty extends to crushing a kitten with his head.
Operatically staged and swollen with symbolism – be it a boy wiping his tears on a red flag or Fascists pelted with apparently real excrement – 1900 is Bertolucci’s flawed masterpiece, best viewed in two sittings and enjoyed as polemic as much as history.
A viewer ignorant of Italian social history may hold on and hope to see if, by chance, things get better by the end. They don’t.
Robert De Niro