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A Man Named Leopard

The leopard man – Retrospettiva: Films

A Man Named Leopard

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© Beta Film / Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt-KINEOS Collection

There are films that are not only masterpieces or cults, but that bring with them simple cinematic lessons where necessary. The Leopard Man is one of these: the conclusion of a trilogy of human horror (and not only, as also can be seen in Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie) built on the triangle formed by RKO, producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur, this film is a brilliant example of narrative power, visual mastery, essentiality and clarity of writing. The horror is evoked in the brutal killings but even more so in mankind, in the unspoken, in the demeaning portrait of a sad humanity that is raised only by a dance on par with that of All About Eve – and the beginning of the film lives on the sound of castanets and the movements of the flamenco – and an exotic presence, a leopard (similar, however, to a panther) that escapes from that gathering of empty souls only, it seems, to take it out on their bodies.

In less than 70 minutes, however, we discover that the bestiality is elsewhere, that Tourneur is capable of portraying who we are, using this genre – cinematic and sexual – and that true cinema has the ability to always look further, even when the truth is hidden before our eyes.

The camera has an elegance which never shows off, the dialogue is a delicate complement of images that know both how to love the body and measure the almost always choreographed movements, Tourneur constantly shows his natural ability for storytelling, metaphorical and halfway between decadence and the will of rebirth, even be it morally. The director, however, in the end, does something else: carving away at our beliefs and conventions, with a harsh, dry scene, a reverse of sense and justice, in an act that brings us, a moment before the triumph of mankind, to the most unfathomable darkness of man. There, and only there, is where kind Jacques leaves us alone: without women, until that pivotal moment of the film, because only men are those who reach rock bottom.

Boris Sollazzo
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