Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Conformist, 1970

Before he scored an international succes de scandale with LAST TANGO IN PARIS Bernardo Bertolucci directed a pair of perfectly formed literary adaptations which knock spots off his later arty blockbusters: THE SPIDER'S STRATAGEM with Alida Valli, and THE CONFORIST,his 1970 art-house crossover from Moravia's novel. The late '60s saw the Italian masters at their peaks: Visconti with THE DAMNED and DEATH IN VENICE, Antonioni blowing up America in ZABRISKIE POINT, Fellini delving into the ancient Rome of SATYRICON and Pasolini scoring with TEOREMA and OEDIPE RE, then there was Bertolucci with this dazzling film.

Jean-Louis Trintigant gets the one of the roles of his career as a man haunted by an incident in his childhood and is so desperate to appear "normal" in Mussolini's Italy of the 1930s during the build-up to the second world war, that he becomes a fascist goon and agrees to go to Paris to engineer the assassination of his old college professor. With its grim humour, breathtaking compositions and bursts of violence, this was a favourite at the time and is still remarkable now. The art deco of the period is lovingly captured, and Vittorio Storaro's colour photography is exemplary. Trintignant belives he has killed the man who made a pass at him when he was a child - which explains his current predicament. Stefania Sandrelli is ideal as the silly girl he marries, and Dominique Sanda too has one of her best roles as the young bisexual wife of the professor. The murder in the woods, while he remains impassive in the car, is one of the most vivid and realistic ever depicted, the tango in the dancehall with the two girls is also stupendous film-making. Powerful stuff then.

I never cared for LAST TANGO though, and 1900 despite its great cast is rather an overblown mess, and I just was not interested in those later Bertolucci succceses like THE LAST EMPEROR or THE SHELTERING SKY, or the later films like STEALING BEAUTY or THE DREAMERS. LA LUNA was another overblown rather daring melodrama which we liked at the time, but its barely remembered now. THE CONFORMIST though is the one to seek out and cherish.

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