Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Currently Watching: Last Tango in Paris (1972)

I'll keep this one brief because I've been pretty busy.  "Last Tango" is a beautiful film that I've been wanting to see for some time.  From Bertolucci's filmography I've also seen "The Conformist" (think it's one of the greatest films ever made), and Tango seems pretty different but still has a rather unflinching and unapologetic view of humanity.  The film is complex, somber, and as it goes on it trembles with its own agony and gradually folds apart as a classic tragedy.  What does that tragedy MEAN though?  The film has little of hope to offer us and goes so far as to suggest we are all alone, we are determined by our mistakes and our foolishness.

Probably the most striking feature of the film is Vittorio Storaro's cinematography.  Among many other works, I remember him most for the aforementioned Conformist and for "Apocalypse Now."  Storaro's work is always unique, and here he uses sepia and wood tones to make the film feel aged.  Lots of stunningly lit close-ups allow the whole of Mary Schneider and Marlon Brando's performances to show off their complexities.  Great tracking shots and blocking are pulled off smoothly.

The film takes place mostly in an apartment in Paris, and the art direction is bare and crumbling, the perfect exteriorization of Brando's mental anguish.  And speaking of Brando, he's amazing in this role.  As a man who is trying to recover from his wife's suicide, he somehow manages to constantly make his character work on multiple levels, shifting the location of his agony from various external and internal levels.  The sex in the film, which has earned it a rather notorious reputation, is not particularly terrible.  There are many shots of Schneider's nude body, suggesting her vulnerability and her yearning to be favored as an object, as she is constantly objectified not as a sex object but as a prop for her fiance director.  One sequence in particular involving Brando's lewd desires is a real centerpiece of the film and is photographed and edited rather tastefully, but Bertolucci still pushes the emotions to the limits.  In the one moment he lets his characters fully confront their vulnerabilities and their pain.

"Last Tango in Paris" is extremely beautiful.  It's an art film, existing in its own space not determined by narrative and working into deep mental and emotional states not necessarily guided by external stimuli.  This is a very tight, very emotional film.  I really enjoyed it; I would like to see it again at some point to really understand all the aesthetic nuances Bertolucci sticks in it, but it does help cement my high opinion of him as a real film artist.

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