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aka - Conformista, Il
Italy 1970
Directed by
Bernardo Bertolucci
111 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Conformist

One of the strands of late 1960s and early ’70s valorization of sexual permissiveness and anti-establishmentarianism was a fascination with Art Deco decadence and Fascism, an appetite for which manifested itself in such films as Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969) and Liliani Calvani’s The Night Porter  (1974).

Bernardo Bertolucci’s Il Conformista, with its story of a self-loathing, sexually repressed Fascist flunky, Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who is sent to Paris to murder his former, anti-Fascist university professor was tailor-made for the times. The conformist of the title, Marcello is desperate to belong to ‘normal’ society and his decisions in life are driven more by his pathetic need to belong than any political commitment, although this is manifested clearly enough by the people around him.

The film is a certainly a damning portrait of Fascism and the psychology underpinning it but unfortunately Bertolucci's elliptical, stylized approach (most evident in Marcello’s relationship with Anna, played by Dominique Sanda) tends to inhibit engagement at an emotional level. In this respect the casting of Jean-Louis Trintignant, not to mention the fact that a considerable portion of the film is set in Paris, seems to reflect the influence of Nouvelle Vague existentialism. Indeed the opening set-up of Trintignant sitting on a bed looking towards the camera might have been taken from Godard’s classic A Bout de Souffle (1959).

Above all, however, it is Vittorio Storaro’s stunning cinematography, albeit aesthetically very seductive, which distracts us from the emotional core of the film (he would become Bertolucci’s regular DOP, arguably to much the same effect), the net result being a cerebral film which is more of an allegory than a work of dramatic realism.

FYI:  Clearly Francis Ford Coppola and Bertolucci were familiar with each other’s work  - Vittorio Storaro would make his American debut with Apocalypse Now (1979) whilst Marlon Brando who infamously appeared briefly in that film starred in Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (1972). Robert De Niro who played a younger version of Brando's Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part II (1974), would star in Bertolucci's 1900 (Novecento), in 1976. and Gastone Moschin who plays Marcello’s minder Mangianello in The Conformist would play Don Fanucci, the Black Hand capo in The Godfather: Part II.

 

 

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