Saturday, March 14, 2015

Olde Review: The Conformist

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the kid I was back in the '70's a bit of a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

In celebration of the shroud of smog that envelops Seattle, the ASUW will continue to show "Thrillers" on Saturday night in 130 Kane and the particular films are Lina Wertmüller's Love and Anarchy, and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist.

The Conformist aka Il Conformista (Bernardo Betulucci, 1972) The Conformist (or Il Conformista, as you'll see it on the screen) is a fascinating movie to watch. It was written and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, who was in Lina Wertmüller's shoes as the most talked-about director a couple years ago with his The Last Tango in Paris. But Bertolucci deserves a lot of the credit given him. On a very cheap budget, he has done things with film techniques, old and new, that expand the potentialities of the cinema. Even more, he makes you realize what those potentialities really are. Bertolucci uses environments, colors, weather to express moods, themes, and actions. Atmospheric is what this film is. It establishes that atmosphere, and so, without subtitles, one can infer what sort of scene is going on.

And I like the way Bertolucci has made this movie. It, like
Love and Anarchy, is in no way a thriller, as Friday's Chinatown is, or as we have come to know the term. The Conformist is something of a chiller--for its iciness in presentation works on you in a way no thriller can. And the audacity of Bertolucci to warp time right in the middle of a scene in order to create the proper tone of a love scene constitutes its own type of thrill. (and the very fact that he can bring it off and do so, so disturbingly, maybe subtlety I don't know whether you will notice it or not, is proof of what a talent Bertolucci is).

He's an uneven talent, to be sure. But those moments when he is effective make up for the times when he is not.The Conformist is one of the few films that make me see things differently, and make me realize, again, why I am so in love with the medium.
The Conformist is still a favorite film. If you haven't seen it, do. Francis Ford Coppola appropriated a lot of the sensibility of The Conformist when he made The Godfather, Part II—one can't help but see the similarities, and a few of the tricks Bertolucci employed, so it may not seem the striking example of "new" that it once was when you've seen that film...or a couple of the Coen brothers' films.
And that last paragraph is absolutely true. After seeing a film like The Conformist, one walks out seeing the world with new eyes. Seeing any Orson Welles film does that to me. Or one of Nicolas Roeg's films. The documentary about cinematographers, Visions of Light, made the world seem much more vivid and full of color. It's a rare after-effect...after-glow... from very special films, but it feels like a gift every time it occurs.
And one wants to immediately feel that feeling again--to seek out a new film, to discover what visions it holds...and whether it will affect your world-view. And if it doesn't, well, maybe the next one...and the hunt begins anew.
The kid who wrote this knew what he was doing when he described The Conformist as not a "thriller," but a "chiller." The Jean-Louis Trintignant character is a man who has no real feelings. He blows with the wind in the matter of love, politics...everything. He's just along for the ride...quite literally. And the dispassionate way that Bertolucci presents his scenes, with a romantic's eye, but an architects' design is beautiful and dramatic. Bertolucci has tried in the following years to replace that icy presentation with a warmer heart, but it never seems to come off as genuine, but as artifice. But he's still making films, and once in a while one captures the world's fancy, like Last Tango... or his equally chilly The Last Emperor (Bertolucci provided the template for getting the most out of the Forbidden City for every film-artist since!). Always interesting to watch, even if his films aren't.

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