|The priest hears Clerici's confession|
In Fascist Italy Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant of Les biches) is engaged to a pretty but vapid woman, Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli of Black Belly of the Tarantula), but making love to her is one of the last things on his mind during his honeymoon in Paris. Marcello has been chosen to do a mission with a colleague named Manganiello (Gastone Moschin) -- to make contact with an old professor, an anti-fascist named Quadri (Enzo Tarascio), and "eliminate" him as a lesson. Marcello believes that he murdered a man, Lino (Pierre Clementi), who nearly molested him when he was a child, and has done his best to quash any "abnormal" sexual impulses or other unconventional thoughts or actions beneath a veil of alleged normalcy. On his honeymoon Marcello develops a seeming passion for Quadri's wife, Anna (Dominique Sanda), even as Anna reveals a certain hankering for Giulia. Although Marcello tries to keep Anna from taking a trip with her husband, tragedy strikes in the woods ... This film brought Bertolucci to international attention, and it is easy to see why, for it has a crisp and arresting style and despite some silly moments and confusing aspects, is suspenseful and very compelling. Bertolucci fiddles a bit with Alberto Moravia's source novel, adding ingredients that are more up his alley, while staying true to the book's themes (although I confess I haven't read the book in decades). If there is a problem with the picture it's that it isn't quite long enough -- things seem to have been left out in the editing room and the final sequence when our anti-hero begins to unravel is much too abrupt, with no real build-up to events that seem more convenient than dramatic. However, the picture not only boasts assured direction, but excellent performances from the entire cast. There are several stand-out sequences, such as the sensual dance between Anna and Giulia, and the tense and disturbing sequence in the woods. Vittorio Storaro's cinematography is outstanding, and there's a fine, evocative score by Georges Delerue. As much as I admired the film -- when I first saw it years ago it really knocked me out -- I have the nagging feeling that someone like, say, William Wyler could have told the same story and made it more moving and powerful and perhaps even more erotic. Then there is the fact that it could be argued that the psychology of the film is obvious and of the dime-store variety. Still Bertolucci and his co-workers fill the movie with interesting and often stunning and unusual images. Dig that photo of Laurel and Hardy on the window of the dance club!
NOTE: For those in the Los Angeles area, the Art Directors Guild [ADG] will have a special showing of The Conformist at the Egyptian theater, Sunday May 20th, at 5:30 PM. The work of Ferdinando Scarfiotti, who was the production designer for the film, will be discussed as well.
Verdict: Comes this close to being a masterpiece but doesn't quite get there. ***.