The Conformist(Paramount Home Entertainment, 12.5.2006)
With The Conformist, Bernardo Bertolucci went from being a young director with great promise (on the stremgth of Before the Revolution and Partner) to being one of the most significant filmmakers of the seventies. As good as his early films are, none show the incredibly accomplished skill of The Conformist. Based on a novel by Alberto Moravia, the film examines one of the most profound phenomena of the twentieth century: those who lack any moral, philosophical or political views of their own, but are quick to absorb the prevailing views of the moment. In the Italy of the late thirties, Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is one such man. Mussolini's fascism dominates Italy so Clerici works for the fascists, hunting down supposed "subversives."
On his honeymoon in Paris, Clerici combines business with pleasure by looking up his old professor -- Quadri (Enzo Tarascio), an exiled anti-fascist -- and luring him to his death. Clerici has married the pretty-but-dim Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) not despite her stupidity, but because of it. Such a wife will never disrupt his relatively placid existence. Yet Clerici has longings and he sees a prostitute (Dominique Sanda) as the embodiment of his sexual desires.
Some viewers get confused because Sanda also plays Quadri's wife, but Bertolucci intends her to represent the extremes of feminine behavior. This point becomes clearer when Anna Quadri begins making lesbian advances to Giulia. Because of a dramatic youthful encounter with a homosexual (Pierre Clementi), Clerici is more than a bit confused about sex and these women reflect his ambivalence. The hot tango between Anna and Giulia is one of the great scenes of the seventies.
But what matters most about The Conformist is not politics or sex or ideas of any sort, but the brilliant images composed by Bertolucci and his collaborators. Several scenes, such as Clerici's first glimpse of the whore version of Anna, take place in fascist-inspired architectural settings with lots of cold marble, vast empty spaces emphasizing the anonymity of the individual. Bertolucci's long-time cinematographer Vittorio Storaro filters out most of the color in many scenes to emphasize the moral grayness of Clerici's world. At the other extreme are the deep reds on the trim of the glass-enclosed dancehall and the sensual blue seen through the windows to accentuate the sexiness of the lesbian dance.
The assassination in a deep, snowy forest is the greatest of the many wonderfully cinematic moments in The Conformist. Cutting back and forth between the killers, their victims, and the ominous scenery is a treatise on the art of editing (by Franco Arcalli). The film is worth seeing for this scene alone or for the sight of Sanda, arguably the most beautiful woman in the movies of the seventies.
This was Trintignant's best performance until he surpassed himself with Kieslowski's Red. Trintignant uses his thin, graceful body ironically to show how emotionally and morally immature Clericic is. His denunciation of everyone but himself in the final scene, ending with Clericic's turning his lost, desolate look toward the camera, is yet another great moment. Gastone Moschin, memorable as the don killed by Robert De Niro's Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part II, is compelling as Clerici's suspicious driver. Coppola fans should see obvious influences in The Conformist, especially the pacing and the operatic tone (he even recruited Vittorio Storaro to photograph Apocalypse Now, One From the Heart, and Tucker).
The Conformist was released in the United States in both subtitled and dubbed versions. The DVD gives the option of watching it in Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese or English with English, Spanish or Portuguese subtitles. The theatrical version was also missing a 5-minute pre-wedding party orchestrated by Clerici's blind friend Italo (Jose Quaglio). This scene, not in Moravia's novel, is a bit heavy-handed with the blind symbolism and adds little to the film's impact.
This addition is among several topics discussed by Bertolucci and Storaro in 39 minutes of making-of extras. Bertolucci reveals that his girlfriend (and later wife, Clare Peploe) read the novel and told him the story. He then based his screenplay on what he had heard, still having not read the book. He considered Brigitte Bardot for Anna, but decided that she could not provide the necessary qualities. Bertolucci says the film's sets, costumes, and framing express his love for the thirties. He also discusses his initial troubles with Paramount. The studio was not interested in releasing The Conformist in any form until Coppola, Sidney Lumet, and Arthur Penn applied pressure. Bertolucci also reveals that, for the first time, The Conformist made him feel "like a grown-up director." -- Michael Adams