Capital Celluloid - Day 103: Thursday Apr 14, 2011

The Conformist (Bertolucci, 1970) BFI Southbank NFT 1, 8.45pm

The Bernardo Bertolucci season at the NFT is in full swing and the strong recommendation is to favour the Italian director's earlier movies. This is a particularly fine example, though, there is an even better movie upcoming on Sunday with The Spider's Stratagem which I managed to see earlier this week.

Still The Conformist is a fascinating film and here is Wally Hammond's review of The Conformist for Time Out:

Bertolucci’s beautiful, idea-laden and thrilling film noir, released in post-√©v√©nements 1970, opens with a Paris hotel sign flashing on a man with a fedora, a gun and a naked woman. But Bertolucci’s late-’30s-set adaptation of Albert Moravia’s novel examining Italy’s fascist past was no exercise in black-and-white nostalgia.

The noir elements – the complex flash-back structure and the out-of-kilter ‘Third Man’-syle camera angles framing its anti-hero, volunteer assassin Jean-Louis Trintignant – are a mere frame, pencil drawings on which cinematographer Vittorio Storaro paints his Freudian washes of blue and red.

Even at the time of the ‘The Conformist’, with its poison-penned quotations of Godard, Bertolucci was already showing himself the greatest pleasure seeker of the ‘children of Marx and Coca-Cola’ agit-prop school. Trintignant’s classically-educated Marcello Clerici – he quotes Emperor Hadrian and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave – is the epitome of the repressed bourgeois, so ashamed of his ‘mad’ father and opium-addicted mother to be delighted, in shades of Sartre’s Daniel, to be married to a ‘mediocre’ wife ‘full of paltry ideas’ and prepared to commit murder to follow the flow of fascist political fashion. Until that is, he claps eyes on the beautiful, decadent wife (Dominique Sanda) of his old tutor and present target, Professor Quadri (Enzo Tarascio).

It’s a dazzling film, dated only in its sense of passionate intellectual engagement, which seductively balances its seditious syllabus of politics, philosophy and sex with a serio-comic tone, exemplified by Gastone Moschin’s near pantomimic Blackshirt and Georges Delerue’s delightful score.

Here is the trailer.

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