The late Italian director’s hauntingly beautiful films continue to be an endless source of inspiration.

“I remember a summer with a group of Spanish friends in Mallorca many years ago. We were in a beautiful house on the mountainous northwest coast that had once belonged to Luis Salvador, the eccentric Austrian archduke who resided on the Spanish island throughout the late 19th century. The company was as wonderful as the setting spectacular, but what I really remember about that summer was my INTRODUCTION to an Italian film, IL GATTOPARDO, after lunch one afternoon.

As we waited for the video to load, one of my friends translated the name and gave a brief synopsis: “The movie is called THE LEOPARD, with Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon, by Italian director VISCONTI. It’s set in 19th-century Sicily and is one of the most BEAUTIFUL THINGS you’ll ever see.”

Thus began my love of the rich, emotionally charged work of lmmaker Luchino Visconti. Over time I would learn that he was born in 1906 to one of the oldest noble families in Milan, the third son of Count Giuseppe Visconti di Modrone and Carla Erba, a music-loving, bourgeois beauty and heiress to a vast pharmaceutical fortune. Much of his lm imagery would be based on nostalgic reinterpretations of his childhood — actress Silvana Mangano, for example, appears in 1971’s Death in Venice like a chi on-haloed reincarnation of his mother — and life between the family palazzo in Milan; opera house La Scala, where his grandfather Duke Guido had been chairman; his father’s 14th-century castle at Grazzano; and his mother’s family home, Villa Erba, on Lake Como. While his early lms championed the genre of Italian Neorealism, Visconti repeatedly turned to the past in his later career, creating epic, historical sagas full of operatic gesture.

Over the years I would fall for other Visconti lms, each taking me back to the beauty of that house on the Mallorca cli . A resplendent Romy Schneider plays the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, cousin of the mad king in Ludwig (1973); in real life the empress stayed with another of her cousins, Luis Salvador, on my same Mallorcan coast in 1892. And there’s the hauntingly beautiful Death in Venice that pairs Thomas Mann’s prose with the music of Gustav Mahler. It’s melodramatic, certainly, and like all Visconti lms moves at a slow pace but there are scenes like animated paintings — think Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla — that could easily hold their own on the walls of the world’s great museums. Each lm feels like the segment of an aesthetic pilgrimage: the period detail and the richness of the interiors; the silences, and the sweeping cinematography; the romance, the nostalgia and above all, the profound depth of feeling.

But like others drawn to Visconti, it’s The Leopard (1963) to which I return over and over again, quenching my thirst in its well of endless inspiration. Shoe guru Manolo Blahnik is “trans xed” by The Leopard, describing Visconti as “the last European director who translated my sensibility, visually and aesthetically”, while fashion journalist Hamish Bowles wrote of the lm for Vogue in 2009, “It is without question in my pantheon of most beloved movies.”

Based on the book of the same name by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the lm recounts the downfall of the Bourbon Sicilian aristocracy against the backdrop of the 1860s Risorgimento. Burt Lancaster gives a stellar performance as the Prince of Salina, who understands that he and his kind are doomed to the rising tide of the new Ma oso middle class. From the opening scene at the prince’s villa, white curtains billowing in the wind, to the nal, 45-minute-long ball sequence in one of the most exceptional interior sets of cinema history, Visconti’s hypnotic brand of faded grandeur comes to visit like a familiar old friend. The Leopard won top prize at Cannes in 1963; when Martin Scorsese presented a restored version of the lm at the festival in 2010, 34 years after Visconti’s death, Scorsese simply stated, “I live with this movie every day of my life.”