Once upon a time in America, Sergio Leone’s ultimate masterpiece

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once upon a time in america
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To see again this weekend on Arte.

Once upon a time in America returns this Sunday on Arte. Notice to night owls: Sergio Leone’s film lasts more than 4 hours! But it is well worth a look.

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After the dollar trilogy that made him famous, Sergio Leone is once again attacking America with a more historic trilogy. Once upon a Time in the Westits first part, is an order from its producers to finance the rest of the saga. Once Upon a Revolution deals with the Mexican Revolution and Once upon a time in America recounts the advent of organized crime. In New York, Noodles recalls the memories of his youth in a city where he has not set foot for 30 years following a settling of scores that went wrong. From his adolescence in the streets to the crimes that Max, the kingpin, forces him to commit, Leone takes us on a fresco as violent as it is romantic transcended by Ennio Morricone’s score.

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The Italian maestro Sergio Leone completes a work where lyricism, heroism, greed and crime rub shoulders. Did he know or not that Once Upon a Time in America would be his final film? Nothing is less sure ; he dreamed of a final section on the civil war that he will not have time to start. Still, this film is his most daunting project: it took 12 years of writing with around twenty screenwriters to complete the adaptation of The Hoods by Harry Gray as Sergio Leone envisioned it, five of them them (Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini) are credited with Leone in the credits. The cast brings together Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Jennifer Connelly and Joe Pesci at their best, symbols of the waste of a corrupt life. The shooting lasted 45 weeks, the budget exploded to 51 million dollars, partly due to the perfect reconstruction of New York in the 1920s. The ideal version that Leone achieves lasts 4:25. But the filmmaker had to make do with the constraints imposed on him and reluctantly validated a 3:49 version for the premiere at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. The reception was triumphant. It is this version that we discover in Europe. But the Americans have a contract and snatch the final cut from him to release a 2:19 version re-edited in chronological order. Sergio Leone immediately denies this truncated version. It will be necessary to wait almost thirty years and the relentlessness of a cinephile named Martin Scorsese and the know-how of the Bologna cinematheque, to discover first at the Cannes Film Festival 2012, then in theaters in 2015, a magnificent version of 4:11, very similar to what the maestro wanted. It is this version which is broadcast tonight on television… Don’t miss it.

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