Saturday, February 08, 2003


I was digging through some tapes that had been buried away in the basement for years and found this which I had taped off Bravo in the early 90's when it was still commercial-free. Because it was taped on our old VCR, it was a little murky and muffled at times, but I was happy to see it, especially since it was letterboxed and subtitled, and apparently the only video commercially available now is a full-screen, dubbed one. Maybe I'm turning into a Bertolucci fan--I hated LAST TANGO IN PARIS, and remember more or less liking 1900, though I haven't seen it since its theaterical release. But I very much liked THE SPIDER'S STRATEGEM [reviewed 7/02], and I think THE CONFORMIST is a great film. Set in Fascist Italy (like the flashbacks in STRATEGEM), it's about a man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who is desperate to be "normal," to conform, and most of his life choices and behaviors are determined by this wish. He marries a woman he knows to be "mediocre" because he thinks he should. He becomes a spy for the Fascists to fit in. He agrees to go off to Paris on a mission to assassinate a former professor and mentor to show his loyalty. And, toward the end, after Mussolini's fall, he pulls off two startling acts of personal betrayal that are truly shocking. He is still so desperate to conform that he seems to have lost his humanity.

The cinematography by Vittorio Storaro is beautiful throughout and appears to have influenced films like THE GODFATHER and MILLER'S CROSSING. Early in the film is a lovely scene in an blindingly white art deco radio studio where we see a conversation taking place with an Italian Andrews Sisters-type group singing in the background. When a fascist speaker starts to talk after the song, the deco background suddenly goes creepily dark. Another great scene is set at a restaurant, involving an erotic dance between two women that turns unexpectedly into a huge line dance that weaves in and out of the glass-walled restaurant. The narrative, as in most of Bertolucci's films, is rather tangled, though I didn't have as much problem following the flashback pattern as some viewers have had. We are led to believe that some of Trintignant's problems are based on an attempted homosexual rape/seduction (we're not clear on exactly how far it got) in his youth, and many critics find the character to be a repressed homosexual, though unless I missed something, I didn't find a lot of evidence for that until the very last scene. Despite (or perhaps partly because of) the usual Bertolucci ambiguity, this is really a great movie that deserves to have a subtitled DVD release (although Paramount doesn't have a good track record for that sort of thing with their older films). Catch it if and where you can.

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