Tag Archives: Bernardo Bertolucci

XL Popcorn – The Conformist

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 873/1009Title: Il conformista (The Conformist)
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Year: 1970
Country: Italy

Second film in a row where I am seeing the final film of a director with four entries on the 1001 list. In real time it wasn’t that long since I saw his previous entry – Last Tango In Parisbut in emotional time it was an age ago. That’s not even taking into consideration the mental suppression I had to do after that butter rape scene.

Of the four Bertolucci films that I have seen for the 1001 list, The Conformist isn’t just my favourite but also the most beautifully shot. As much as I enjoyed The Spider’s Stratagemthe direction and cinematography have nothing on this. The way that space is used in the shots from the stark open space of the mental hospital to the simple layout of the rooms in the fiancée’s family home is outstanding. Even the final shots in post-fascist Italy are stunning, especially the final act of ‘conforming’ in the ruins of the Teatro Marcello.

The title tells you pretty much what you need to know about the main character. This is a man who will conform to what he needs in order to get along. It’s not even as if you could think of this as him just surviving as that would imply some sort of aversion to the beliefs he holds in order to life. I imagine that if this was made in a country that was taken over by Nazi Germany, rather than being set in Mussolini’s Italy, the title may have been more along the lines of the The Collaborator.

This is a man who feels the need to clumsily ingratiate himself with the secret police and so ends up being given a job assassinating a former teach of his that now lives in exile. In a modern terms this is like a Republican who abandoned all scruples to become a Trump super fan and then, now Trump is no longer in office, is shoving other Trump supporters under the bus to divert attention from him. At least in this metaphor, he doesn’t end up helping assassinate two innocent people.

In watching The Conformist I finally managed to clock that Jean-Louis Trintignant as an actor I’ve seen in a bunch of other films, including Three Colours: Red, Amour, Z and My Night At Maud’sI know that two of those were him as a much older man, but wow how long it has taken me to realize this. At least I got there in the end with, what I think is, his final film on the 1001 list.

XL Popcorn – Last Tango In Paris

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 810/1007Title: Last Tango In Paris
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Year: 1972
Country: Italy/France

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.

XL Popcorn – Before The Revolution

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 786/1007Title: Prima della rivoluzione (Before the Revolution)
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Year: 1964
Country: Italy

If I have to watch another film for the 1001 list that uses incest as a plot point in a male protagonists maturation, I am going to have to rage quit the film. Granted this blood-related aunt-nephew sexual relationship isn’t as heinous as the mother-son incident in Murmur of the Heart, but in both instances the protagonist is acting as a surrogate for the director so I have serious questions. Especially as, if the genders were reversed, I can imagine there being more outrage within online reviews. Anyway, now that is out of my system, let’s talk about the non-incest elements of the film.

Before the Revolution might be, and I am happy to be corrected here, the first time I have seen a non-Fellini Italian film from the 1960s that could be described as Italian New Wave. It’s been a decade since I saw 8 1/2, but the was a film I remember just shrugging my shoulders at. Pretty much my general reaction to the French New Wave films, with some notable exceptions, so it’s little wonder that Before the Revolution inspired the same reaction.

There’s stuff here that I can appreciate, but so much of what critics see as exceptional just went over my head because the overall style of this cinematic movement just makes me want to do the whole “smallest violin” shtick towards the protagonist. I mean this is a guy who ultimately talks big, thinks about revolution and then just ends up marrying into the middle class as he ultimately chooses to take the easy option. Sure, he has sex with his aunt along the way, but this is not a revolutionary narrative and the characters are ultimately frustratingly shallow.

The only character who is actually interesting is the aunt, but she’s also a stock character – the psychologically damaged love interest with past experiences being the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ of this era. Again, her characterisation is ultimately shallow, but at least you can toss around some idea about her motivations outside of the ordinary.

Characters and story aside, there are two things that are noteworthy here. First is the score by Ennio Morricone, who that same year also did his first score for the Fistful of Dollars trilogy. Secondly, is the direction by Bertolucci. In terms of direction, New Wave is never going to be my favourite genre, but there are some beautiful pieces of camerawork here and that is what makes you want to keep going even if the story is getting a bit tiresome.

XL Popcorn – The Spider’s Stratagem

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 728/1007Title: Strategia del ragno (The Spider’s Stratagem)
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Year: 1970
Country: Italy

Between all the Disney films I’ve been watching in between the 1001 movies, it’s getting a bit difficult to remember the last time I did a foreign language film for this particular challenge. Turns out it was only two films ago… and prior to that it was three films in a row of non-English excellence – so I really shouldn’t have worried.

Going into The Spider’s Stratagem I had absolutely no idea what I was about to watch; other than it being by Bernardo Bertolucci. He has four films on the 1001 list and, somehow, this is the first of them that I have gotten around to seeing. Probably doesn’t help that, due to a lot of what came out recently, I am really uncertain about watching his most famous film: Last Tango In Paris. 

After seeing this film, however, I am keen to see what else he can do. In a nutshell, this tells the story of a Athos – man journeying to a rural Italian town where his father is worshipped as a martyr of the anti-fascism movement. He’s there to uncover the identity of the person who killed his father, having received a tip-off from his father’s acknowledged mistress, only to become trapped in the same conspiracy that resulted in the death of his father.

At no point in the duration of The Spider’s Stratagem do you feel that Athos is anything close to safe. The people who killed his father clearly don’t want the truth to come out, which results in him being locked in a stable, punched in the face and then having some weird interactions with a local boy who holds his rabbit up by the ears. Even the woman who is meant to be his ally starts to act incredibly oddly as he tries to leave.

This is a town where his martyred father is so revered that the truth threatens to undermine their whole identity and so, by the end he has to choose whether to reveal what he’s learned or to allow the mystery to continue (think Lisa Simpson’s final choice in the episode ‘Lisa the Iconoclast). It’s a poignant ending, made all the more interesting by his physical inability to move away due to the poor condition of the railway line.

It’s nice to get around to seeing a film on the list that is one of the ‘hidden gems’ and have it live up to that designation. The whole setting of this town felt very much like a 1970’s Italian version of Twin Peaks – but without the backwards talking girl and the flaming playing cards. With that in mind, what wasn’t there to like.