Some films are ‘infamous’ and ten there are those that are infamous. Last Tango in Paris falls very much into the latter designation with me being aware of its controversial nature as a child (because of it being used as a gag for a film night in The Vicar of Dibley) without knowing particularly why. Nowadays it’s known by two different controversies – the initial one around explicit sexual content and the depiction of rape, then there’s the modern day one around Maria Schneider’s revelations about the rape scene.
It’s difficult to not talk about this film without talking about that scene. Knowing the behind the scenes goings on and that her tears were genuine, that scene is harrowing to watch. Compared to other scenes of this type that I have scene, like that in Irrevesible, it is nowhere near as violent – but both made feel as complicit. As a scene in the film, I’m not entirely sure what it’s meant to add other than some twisted massaging of a middle-aged man’s sexual daydreams.
Outside of that scene, there is only one other scene that feels outside of the ordinary. On the whole, the nudity and the sex are not too extreme and wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if produced today, of course there is a ramping up because we have to reach that ending. However, everything just watches like a circle jerk.
The sexual scenes pleasure Bertolucci’s desires and hopes that he can continue to have sex with ‘nymphettes’ at an advanced age. Then there are the more meta elements about the making of films which just feel like him engaging in intellectual masturbation. I went in expecting to be sleeved out and I left feeling awful for Schneider and rather bored. Like, it’s impressive that Brando can reach that level of acting whilst reading off cue cards, but why the hell did they indulge him on that. Ugh.