Italy-France-West Germany, 1970
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Production: Mars Film SPA (Rome), Marianne Productions (Paris), and Maran Film GMBH (Munich); Technicolor, 35mm; running time: 112 minutes. Released 1970. Filmed in Italy and Paris.
Producers: Maurizio Lodife with Giovanni Bertolucci as executive producer; screenplay: Bernardo Bertolucci, from the novel by Alberto Moravia; photography: Vittorio Storaro; editor: Franco Arcalli; production designer: Ferdinando Scarfiotti; music: Georges Delerue; costume designer: Gitt Margrini.
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant ( Marcello ); Stefania Sandrelli ( Giulia ); Dominique Sanda ( Anna Quadri ); Pierrel Clementi ( Nino Seminara ); Gastone Moschin ( Manganiello ); Enzo Tarascio ( Professor Quadri ); Jose Quaglio ( Halo ); Milly ( Marcello's mother ); Giuseppe Addobbati ( Marcello's father ); Yvonne Sanson ( Giulia's mother ); Fosco Giachetti ( The Colonel ); Benedetto Benedetti ( Minister ); Gio Vagni Luca ( Secretary ); Christian Alegny ( Raoul ); Antonio Maestri ( Priest ); Christian Belegue ( Gypsy ); Pasquale Fortunato ( Marcello as child ); Marta Lado ( Marcello's daughter ); Pierangelo Givera ( Male nurse ); Carlo Gaddi, Franco Pellerani, Claudio Cappeli, and Umberto Silvestri ( Hired killers ).
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* * *
Bernardo Bertolucci's films are often centered on the "split" protagonist. Sometimes ( Before the Revolution, The Conformist and—if we take Maria Schneider as the central figure— Last Tango in Paris ) the split is dramatized within a single individual torn between two lovers/ways of life/political allegiances; sometimes ( Partner, 1900 ) it is dramatized by simultaneously paralleling and opposing two protagonists, inverted "doubles."
The Conformist repeats the essential structure of Before the Revolution. The protagonist is torn between alternatives on two levels: political—Marxism vs. conservative Fascism; and sexual— bourgeois marriage vs. a form of sexual deviancy (incest in the earlier film and homosexuality in the later, though this is touched on in the first section of the earlier film also). There are also important differences. In The Conformist the choice has already been made, and Marcello is presented with the quandary of whether to re-confirm or reverse it; also, because the protagonist is a (precariously) committed Fascist, Bertolucci is able to distance himself from him more successfully, achieving a degree of irony that eluded him in Before the Revolution. What gives the films both richness and confusion is the failure of the political and sexual levels to become coherently aligned. One expects the straightforward opposition of Marxism/sexual liberation vs. conservatism/sexual conformity, but this never quite materializes. In Before the Revolution the protagonist's aunt/lover (and before her, his young male friend/potential lover) is presented as apolitical and neurotic. In The Conformist the "liberated" woman with left-wing commitments and explicit lesbian tendencies is associated (via the lesbianism) with decadence and irresponsibility. The homosexual chauffeur who seduced an already sexually ambiguous Marcello in childhood is also presented as decadent and exploitive. Yet the film is quite clear in connecting Marcello's repression of his homosexuality with his espousal of Fascism. The tension is never resolved in the film, or elsewhere, in Bertolucci's work so far.
Fundamental to the "Bertoluccian split" is a tension within his cinematic allegiances. Avowedly a disciple of Godard, his stylistic affinities are with a tradition of luxuriance and excess that might be represented by Welles, Ophüls and von Sternberg—a tradition totally alien to Godard's filmic practice. When Bertolucci obtained financing from Paramount for The Conformist , Godard (then at his most intransigent, in the period immediately following the upheavals of May 1968) denounced him. Bertolucci took his revenge by giving Marcello's left-wing mentor, Professor Quadri, Godard's telephone number, then having the character violently assassinated. It is not surprising that the same film sees the full flowering of Bertolucci's stylistic flamboyance—elaborate camera movements, strange baroque angles, luxuriant color effects, a profusion of ornate decor, the intricate play of light and shadow. This abandonment, however, never ceases to be troubled and uneasy: baroque excess collides with Godardian distanciation. The film at once intellectually disavows "decadence" yet acknowledges an irresistible fascination for it. The split is not merely thematic (hence under the artist's control): it manifests itself at every level of his filmmaking.