The Conformist (Paramount, R)

Bertolucci is widely considered one of the all-time legends of international cinema, right up there with Godard and Truffaut and de Sica and Fellini, but to be honest, I’ve never really cared for most of his films.

 

While I was an undergrad at Webster University, I once asked permission to skip class because I had the rare opportunity to see Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist projected from film on Washington University’s campus. While it might seem that this is indicative of my being an unfathomable wiener as an undergrad (apparently my teacher agreed with this theory; he did not permit my absence), it is also telling as to the number of times one finds an opportunity to see The Conformist on film. It had been caught in a rights battle practically ever since it was originally released in 1970, and about the only way to see the film at all was with badly dubbed dialogue on second- or third-generation VHS (it was briefly restored and re-released in theatres in 1994, but hasn’t been seen since, on home video or otherwise). Luckily for us, though, something dislodged the film from its nonrelease limbo, and Paramount is showing repertory screenings of it at arthouses around the country the way it was meant to be seen in the first place: subtitled, uncut, and on film.

The Conformist is based on a novel by Alberto Moravia (who also wrote the source material for Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt, which the Criterion Collection just culled out of a similar fate of unavailability for a fantastic two-disc DVD) about a Mussolini operative named Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintignant) sent to hunt down an old professor who fled Italy when the fascists came to power. Along the way he courts a girl named Anna (Dominique Sanda), notable for wearing a dress that makes her look like a “walking vagina,” according to a different Webster professor than the one who disallowed my absence.

Bertolucci is widely considered one of the all-time legends of international cinema, right up there with Godard and Truffaut and de Sica and Fellini, but to be honest, I’ve never really cared for most of his films. Last Tango in Paris irritates me, and almost all of his films from the past two decades have been undisciplined and stupid (although I did rather like The Dreamers back in 2003), such as The Last Emperor, which won nine Oscars in 1988, including Best Picture. Despite all of this, I still can’t get over the combination of a great story and absolutely gorgeous visuals (thanks mostly to Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography; there’s a shootout in a sun-dappled forest that’ll stick in your memory forever) that The Conformist exhibits; not only is it Bertolucci’s one true indisputable masterpiece, it is one of the greatest films of all time. Hopefully the ball won’t be dropped and the restored, uncut, subtitled version of the film will be released to DVD after the film’s jaunt through America’s more reputable theatres. Criterion, we’re counting on you.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply