The Beauty of Bertolucci
Bertolucci has always managed to portray eroticism on the screen and he does so artfully. He films with such artistry that erotic mastery seems to jump off of the screen. Some 40 years ago he made “The Conformist” which is his most provocative film and remains a classic of the Italian new wave.
Jean-Louis Trintignant plays Marcello has desires in life—he wants to be normal, for one. For him, normality means being a Fascist, having a wife and children and a government job and being able to forget his dark past and actions. He receives a charge from his secret organization to kill his ex-philosophy professor while on a “make believe” honeymoon with his wife. When he is on assignment, he flirts and has an illicit affair with Anna, the professor’s anti-Fascist wife while attempting to keep peace with his agency’s contact person.
Bertolucci makes this into a beautiful film. The chronological timeline of the events is discarded and diced and when Marcello embarks upon a ride in a car, the entire film begins to tilt. Colors reflect moods and the director’s use of then is like an artist painting a canvas.
What Bertolucci does in the film is attack Fascist ideology by giving us an anti-hero in the guise of Marcello. Marcello’s hatred of public love and intense feeling is par for the course for him and expected but Bertolucci gives us this with the punctuation of a series of perversities and acts so devious that Marcello becomes a construct of complexity. We see this when his wife tells him of her affair with a sixty year old family friend (on a train). The confessional scene when Marcello openly tells a priest that he had been sexually molested and knew of murder he was involved in when he was a child is even more striking. This is obviously the director speaking to us about the nature of sin and that it is inherent in modern man.
Marcello is an aristocratic Fascist and an intellectual coward who sacrifices everything of the safety of normalcy and acceptability. What makes the film so unique is its psycho-sexual approach to fascism and it triumphs with feeling and style which leaves the viewer with images that remain inked on his brain. The movie which presents us with one man’s private hell as part of the private hell of everyone else is an amazing venture into filmmaking. The movie is succulent and lush and extraordinarily beautiful. It is almost impossible to believe that “The Conformist” was made in 1970. What a gorgeous way to spend a couple of hours.