Wednesday, 11 April 2007
The Conformist (1970) dir. Bernardo Bertolucci
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Enzo Tarascio
In 1970 Bernardo Bertolucci was still an Italian phenom, he was 30 and had already directed 3 accomplished films. Teaming for the first time with the great Vittorio Storaro, who would go on to shoot “Apocalypse Now” and “Reds” Bertolucci created a sumptuous and sexy political thriller about fascism, sex, betrayal and murder. In 36 years, it’s aged better than any film of its year and today should be considered one of the greatest films of all time, or at the very least the most beautifully shot.
Set in pre-war Italy 1938, Marcello Clerici, a wannabe bourgeoisie with some painful repressed psychological baggage, including a homosexual incident from his youth, has chosen to compensate by trying to find normalcy in his life. He’s chosen marriage because that’s what's expected of him and now he’s joined the Fascist party in order to confirm his status as a conforming citizen of the state.
During his honeymoon in Paris, Marcello receives his first orders to track down and murder his former University professor and suspected subverter Enzo Quadri. This immoral act of treachery is the perfect assignment to test his loyalty. As Marcello and his wife reacquaint themselves with Quadri, Marcello develops an attraction to Quardi’s wife Anna. The relationship of the ‘foursome’ develops, further intensifying Marcello's Hamlet-like indecision. Marcello eventually completes his transformation to fascist robot when he betrays his friends and watches them die a gruesome death. The climax is powerful, but it’s the denouement that provides the cathartic release and personal redemption for Marcello as he confronts face-to-face the demons of his past.
“The Conformist” is a Freudian character study about a man overcompensating for his own personal fears and self-doubts. It's the repressed homosexual incident from Marcello’s childhood (obviously a big no-no under Fascist rule) that created the cold, lifeless and emotional detached Marcello of today. Is he homosexual or not? We don’t know, and neither does Marcello. To Marcello, Fascism represents the ideal avenue to subjugate his desires, deprogram himself and destroy his individuality.
The complexity of Marcello’s character is matched by Bertolucci’s visualization. Every frame is a piece of art and no other film has used light, shadow, colour and movement to greater dramatic effect. Each shot after the next brims with astonishing visual beauty. At a time when Hollywood was going natural and handheld “The Conformist” presents a classic, elegant and stylized look. In colour film, only “Days of Heaven” and “The Godfather” come close to challenging its masterful elegance.
But “The Godfather” and “The Conformist” have more in common. Essentially they are both about a once innocent man transformed, brainwashed and lured in by an acceptable form of societal sin (fascism vs. the mob). Though not as sprawling and epic as "The Godfather," “The Conformist” more than compensates with pure gorgeousness. Enjoy.
PS. It's also one of the sexiest and most alluring films ever made. Watch Anna and Giulia's teasing dance: