Today: April 19, 2024

The Conformist

Lets cut straight to the chase, The Conformist may just be one of the greatest films ever made.

Lets cut straight to the
chase, The Conformist may just be one of the greatest films ever made.
It’s one of the best films
of the 1970’s. One of the best Italian films ever and debatably it may the best
film of Bernado Bertolucci‘s
illustrious career. At the age of just 29, Bertolucci crafted a masterpiece,
inspired by Alberto Moravia‘s novel
of the same name.

Set in 1930’s Italy, where fascism is ripe, we follow Marcello Clerici
in his attempts to conform to Mussolini’s fascist police force. Very quickly we
learn that he has been assigned to assassinate his former university professor
whilst on honeymoon in Paris. His former professor has become a leader of an
anti-fascist movement and Clerici agrees to the mission in order to stabilize
his dysfunctional middle class life. However as the narrative progresses,
repressed memories, including a troubling sexual ordeal he experienced as a
child, begin to play with his consciousness as he questions the validity of his
beliefs.

Often assessed as a study on fascism, Bertolucci’s blend of political
thriller, psychological intrigue and 1930’s art décor make The Conformist both
lavish and twisted. Taking a leaf from his long-term mentor, the great Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bertolucci
employed a sexually heavy plot. Not to be considered pornographic, the sexual
tension between all the characters involved is in some ways saddening as they
are restrained by the political tyranny of the time. This doesn’t mean that the
entire film is a depressing affair. The influx of eccentric and humorous
moments add a lighter tone to the film and are sometimes its highlights. The
scene in the Parisian dancehall is wonderfully shot and choreographed, a scene
that would make Jean Luc Godard
proud. In fact Bertolucci was a long term admirer of Godard’s work and at it’s
heart The Conformist is probably the best film the legendary Frenchmen never
made. Even Clerici’s young wife is so Godardian, she could have been lifted
straight from the streets of Alphaville.
The fantastic use of colour, music, light and combined with Vittorio Storaro‘s cinematography, The
Conformist at times reads more like a painting than a film.

Whilst a lot of credit should go to Bertolucci, the performance from Jean-Louis Trintignant as Clerici is
masterful. For the vast majority of the film, Trintignant practically does the
acting on his own. This doesn’t mean that the acting is bad in the film just
that there aren’t many actors in it. There is barely a scene that doesn’t
feature Trintignant. Whether he is cavorting with his wife, conspiring with
fascists, caring for his elderly parents or debating with his primary target,
Trintignant is on fire. His doubts about fascism only surface thick. We never
get an internal dialogue as to his thoughts, everything is done through body
language and mannerisms. For anyone who was bowled over by Trintignant in the
amazing Three Colours: Red, The
Conformist is a must see for any world cinema lover.

If any criticism is applied then the non-linear narrative of the first
half may alienate a few. In the first hour the story jumps un-tellingly between
past and present and even on repeat viewing can seem confusing, ironically
making it far from conformist. However, patience is a virtue and the last half
of the film is incredible and will reward anybody for their perseverance. This
DVD and Blu Ray restoration hasn’t deterred any of the quality or artistry on
screen. Anyone interested in the period of history or even slow burning
thrillers, or just good plain cinema, The Conformist should be on top of your
wish list.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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