Celebrated by musicians, poets and writers, plus directors, the Risorgimento (Unification) is the historical period in Italy that most encapsulates a feeling of national unity, of ideals fought for but often disappointed, that highlights the men and women who lived and fought for them, and the decline of the aristocracy that made way for the advance of the middle-class.
Tomasi di Lampedusa dedicated his life to writing some of the most memorable pages of contemporary Italian literature. Rendered Luchino Visconti into the winning film of the 1963 Festival of Cannes, The Leopard is a work that has endured in the collective imagination for the beauty of its characters, their sumptuous clothing and its spectacular locations from arid landscapes to luxurious palaces. "We were the Leopards, the Lions; those who'll take our place will be little jackals, hyenas; and the whole lot of us, Leopards, jackals, and sheep, we'll all go on thinking ourselves the salt of the earth" says Don Fabrizio bitterly, convinced that the transfer of power from the Bourbon to the Savoy dynasty will bring no repercussions to Sicily. While the Prince of Salina watches the decline of the aristocracy with detachment, as it begins with the Garibaldi redshirts’ arrival in Sicily, his nephew Tancredi rides the wave of change and marries Angelica, the daughter of a tenant farmer grown rich. The film takes place between Palermo and the imaginary Feudo di Donnafugata. Unable to shoot in the palaces and locations that inspired the novel, Visconti chose Villa Boscogrande, 18th century noble residence on the foothills of Monte Pellegrino, to replace Palazzo Lampedusa and the village of Ciminno for the imaginary summer residence of Donnafugata, whose rooms are borrowed from the piano nobile of Palazzo Chigi di Ariccia, in the Castelli Romani: Tancredi meets Angelica in the Summer dining room; Agostino Chigi Albani’s bedroom is Don Fabrizio’s; the Prince’s study is the unmistakeable “Sala delle Belle”, whose walls are decorated with portraits of the most beautiful women of the Roman aristocracy. The iconic scene where Angelica waltzes with Don Fabrizio was shot in Palazzo Valguarnera Gangi, Palermo.
The intrigues of the Uzeda di Fragalanza family, descendants of the Spanish Vicerè, narrated by Federico De Roberto and transposed onto film by Roberto Faenza, intertwine with the historical events that took place before the storming of the Baroque wonders of Catania by the Garibaldi redshirts and the consequent annexing of Sicily to the Kingdom of Italy. From the historical centre of the city we cross Piazza Duomo, Porta Uzeda and admire the Elephant Statue, symbol of the city. With the Prince Consalvo and his cousin Giovannino we walk beneath the Arch of St. Benedict and reach via dei Crociferi, a monumental 19th century road. The Uzeda residence is Palazzo Biscari, an example of Catanian Baroque built on the 16th century walls of the oldest part of the city. The interiors, however, are a collage of other places: the superstitious Prince Uzeda spends much of his time preparing potions and bad luck protections in his pharmacy – the Summer Dining Room of Palazzo Chigi di Ariccia – and organizing exorcisms – the Billiards Room in Castle of Donnafugata. The prince’s leaving lunch is held in the Salone Giallorosso (Yellow and Red Salon) of Palazzo Chigi di Ariccia whose name derives from the colours of the damask on its walls. Teresa celebrates her birthday and wedding in the sumptuous Salon of Palazzo Biscari. From here, she ventures onto the terrace, embellished with magnificent external portals, with Giovannino to watch the fireworks in honour of Sant’Agata. Returning to Catania, the prince argues with his father who once again throws him out, and he finds refuge with his aunt Ferdinanda in Villa Cerami, one of the most elegant historic palaces of Catania, situated at the end of Via Crociferi and built in 1693. With the cholera outbreak, the Uzedas move to Belvedere, the family estate on Mount Etna: the external facade and staircase identify the location as Villa Fegotto in Chiaramonte Gulfi (province of Ragusa).
Following the Bourbon repression of the events of 1828, three young men from the Cilento region – Salvatore, Domenico, Angelo – join Giuseppe Mazzini’s Giovine Italia. In We Believed, Mario Martone focusses on several episodes from the Italian Risorgimento starting with the revolutionary events in Cilento, which were filmed where they actually took place. One of the main locations, therefore, was the Parco Nazionale del Cilento, Vallo di Diano e Alburni in the area between Roscigno Vecchia, Pollica, Castellabate, Camerota and Palinuro.
After the failure of the Roman Republic, Domenico is arrested and taken, with other political prisoners, to the prison in Montefusco created by using the Castle of Bovino and the Norman Anjioin Castle of Deliceto (province of Foggia). We watch the unfolding of the historical process later known as the Risorgimento through his cynical gaze. A significative choice of location is that of Castellabate (province of Salerno) near Sapri, where Carlo Pisacane’s attempted rebellion ended in a bloodbath. Here principal photography took place mostly on the Portico “Le Gatte” in Santa Maria di Castellabate which overlooks a small harbour. If the embarkments took place in the sea off Acciaroli, the Arco naturale di Palinuro is the backdrop for the arrivals. Passing through the Gola del Diavolo, a sheer drop where the medieval borgo of San Severino perches, Domenico and Saverio ride across Mingardo to join the Garibaldi redshirt troops who will soon arrive, seeking refuge in the high area of Palinuro.
The unification process will, however, be sparked in the distant region of Piedmont: scenes feature Turin, Saluzzo, Savigliano and other areas of the province of Pinerolo, often hiding their true origins when they serve as France and England.
On the eve of the Battle of Custoza, Countess Livia Serpieri, the wife of an Austrian sympathizer, meets and falls in love with a young Austrian officer, Franz Mahler, during a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Trovatore at Teatro La Fenice in Venice. These are the opening scenes of Luchino Visconti’s Senso. Overcoming her initial resistance, Livia spends a night with the Lieutenant walking the calli of Venice, deserted because of the curfew. Dawn surprises the couple on the Fondamenta of Cannaregio, which leads to the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, a small island in the sestiere of Cannaregio, linked by three bridges and site of the historical Jewish Ghetto. This is the start of a tumultuous relationship that will last until the officer’s disappearance. Distraught, Livia searches for him at the Porta Magna dell'Arsenale di Venezia, in the Campo dell'Arsenale in the Fondamenta Arsenale, in the Castello neighbourhood, east of Piazza San Marco.
When war breaks out, Livia and her husband move to Villa di Aldeno, actually Villa Godi Malinverni in Lugo di Vicenza: designed by Andrea Palladio, who began work there in 1537, it is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The “Sala di Venere” and the “Sala dell'Olimpo” were used for Livia’s bedroom and boudoir, the countess gives Lieutenant Franz money in the “Sala dei Cesari” and in the “Sala delle Muse”, the central sala served as the Serpieris’ drawing room.
While the battle of Custoza rages on (shot around Valeggio sul Mincio, Borghetto di Valeggio sul Mincio, San Giorgio in Salici), Livia reaches her lover in Verona where she discovers his true base nature. She arrives on the evening that the Italian troops are defeated and the final scenes were actually shot in the Trastevere area in Rome: the entrance into Verona is actually Porta Settimiana at the beginning of via della Lungara, on the right shore of the Tiber. Other scenes were shot in Via Anicia, via Garibaldi (where the countess reports that Franz has deserted), vicolo del Leopardo and via dell’Arco de’ Tolomei. Death by shooting squad takes place at Castel Sant’angelo.