A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970)

Of all the hyphenated Jeans, Jean-Louis Trintignant seems to me the most interesting. He doesn't have the lawless sex appeal of Jean-Paul Belmondo, and he didn't grow up on screen in Truffaut films like Jean-Pierre Léaud, but his career has been marked by exceptional performances of characters under great internal pressure. From the young husband cuckolded by Brigitte Bardot in And God Created Woman (Roger Vadim, 1956) and the mousy law student in whom Vittorio Gassman tries to instill some joie de vivre in Il Sorpasso (Dino Risi, 1962), through the dogged but eventually frustrated investigator in Z (Costa-Gavras, 1969) and the Catholic intellectual who spends a chaste night with a beautiful woman in My Night at Maud's (Eric Rohmer, 1969), to the guilt-ridden retired judge in Three Colors: Red (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994) and the duty-bound caregiver to an aged wife in Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012), Trintignant has compiled more than 60 years of great performances. His most popular film, A Man and a Woman (Claude Lelouch, 1966), is probably his least characteristic role: a romantic lead as a race-car driver, opposite Anouk Aimée. His role in The Conformist, one of his best performances, is more typical: the severely repressed Fascist spy, Marcello Clerici, who is sent to assassinate his old anti-Fascist professor (Enzo Tarascio). Marcello's desire to be "normal" is rooted in his consciousness of having been born to wealth but to parents who have abused it to the point of decadence, with the result that he becomes a Fascist and marries a beautiful but vulgar bourgeoise (Stefania Sandrelli). Bertolucci's screenplay places a heavier emphasis on Marcello's repression of homosexual desire than does its source, a novel by Alberto Moravia. In both novel and film, the young Marcello is nearly raped by the chauffeur, Lino (Pierre Clémenti), whom Marcello shoots and then flees. But in the film, Lino survives to be discovered by Marcello years later on the streets the night of Mussolini's fall. Marcello, whose conformity does an about-face, sics the mob on Lino by pointing him out as a Fascist, and in the last scene we see him in the company of a young male prostitute. This equating of gayness with corruption is offensive and trite, but very much of its era. Even the sumptuous production -- cinematography by Vittorio Storaro, design by Ferdinando Scarfiotti, music by Georges Delerue -- doesn't overwhelm the presence of Trintignant's intensely repressed Marcello, with his stiff, abrupt movements and his tightly controlled stance and walk. If The Conformist is a great film, much of its greatness comes from Trintignant's performance.

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