Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Conformist

Il conformista; drama, Italy / France / Germany, 1970; D: Bernardo Bertolucci, S: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin, Enzo Tarascio, Dominique Sanda

Marcello Clerici is an official in Fascist Italy of the 30s. He is persuaded to join the secret police, which hunts and kills anti-fascists. Clerici accepts everything what he is told, and thus marries average Giulia and goes to confession. He gets an assignment to travel to Paris to kill the Italian anti-fascist intellectual Quadri, his former professor at the university. Once in Paris, Clerici finds out he does not have much in common with Fascism, and even falls in love with Quadri's wife, Anna, but still complies and arranges for the secret police to kill Quadri and Anna in an ambush on the road. After the fall of the Totalitarian regime in Italy, Clerici feels lost and wonders through the streets.

Arguably his best film, "The Conformist" shows director Bernardo Bertolucci in inspired form, who crafts an aesthetically pleasant and intellectually stimulating film, with a special mention that should be attributed to the elegant camera drives and some of director's interventions (for instance, the party at some 35 minutes into the film, where one girl looks directly into the camera, and the Italian tricolor flag is in the background, but as she sits to play the piano, two other girls show up behind her and lean left and right on the piano, in a stylistic composition) which make even ordinary sequences stand out. However, the main themes that Bertolucci tried to address are the most interesting ingredient to ponder about: disappointed by worldwide protests of '68, which gave no concrete results, Bertolucci decided to explore this in the storyline about the protagonist, Clerici, who is a symbol for conformity, a person who does what he is told to even though he actually does not feel like it.

Throughout the film, Clerici is shown as a passive person with high pliability: he accepts to be part of the secret police in Fascist Italy even though he personally does not believe in its ideals (it is hinted he is a bisexual, an atheist, and that he fell in love with Anna, the woman of an anti-fascist professor, yet he still accepts to marry a woman he does not love, Giulia, abandon Anna and to confess in front of a priest - in a highly comical scene where the priest scorns him for his sins, indlucing murder, but ironically gives him instant absolution when he tells him he works for the Italian secret police), and the director ponders if such passivity and indifference became epidemic in the modern generations. This is further elaborated by a clever little demonstration of Plato's allegory of the cave, which the professor uses as an allegory for people in dictatorships that are keeping them ignorant and under one-sided worldview. Bertolucci crafted several opulent moments (Clerici and Giulia in a sensual embrace in the train, while the sunlight is "warming" them through the window; the exquisite finale where the secret police stages an ambush for professor's car in the forest on the mountain), with a tight rhythm, whereas another great role was delivered by Jean-Louis Trintignant, one of the most prolific European actors of the second half of the the 20th century.


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