The Conformist - Bernardo Bertolucci (1970)
I'm currently falling further and further behind on my reading targets for the year so thought I would at least make an attempt to hit my target of reviewing a decent amount (six or seven) films for the Foreign Film Festival at Richard's Caravana de Recuerdos and simultaneously, for Caroline's World Cinema Series at her blog Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. Two birds with one stone, I like it.
Once again ignoring the piles of unwatched DVD's scattered around the house I made use of my Netflix account and so watched Bertolucci's The Conformist on my laptop, probably not optimum conditions to watch one of cinemas acknowledged visual classics. I was also tired so had to rewind on a couple of occasions when my attention headed for my own dream landscape, and away from Bertolucci's.
But despite these drawbacks I was able to appreciate much in this film, not least the visuals. Right from the start there is a sense of flight or pursuit. The opening shot is lit by flashes from red neon signs, one of which reads La Vie est a Nous, the name of a propaganda film for the French communist party shot in 1936 and released in French cinemas in 1969. Jean Renoir was one of it's directors. Between the flashes Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) disappears into the night but after each band of darkness the light has increased. It is morning. A phone call and he is on his way to meet someone outside the hotel. The last thing he does is pick up his hat which lies on the naked back of a woman who has been hidden from view by the footboard of the bed. There is a touch of Magritte in the image.
"What will you get from marriage?
The impression of normality"
Before getting married in church, Clerici must confess and this is one of the keys scenes in the movie, linking feelings of guilt with our anti- hero's behavior.
"Tell me, which sins have you committed?
I've committed them all. Even the worst sin."
But his admission of this "worst sin" seems to interest the priest less than details of his carnal activity. As the priest presses for more information Clerici refuses to elaborate, saying - "Its almost as if the church considers sodomy more serious than killing a man."
"Normality" seems of little interest to Bertolucci. Clerici is not just a repressed homosexual: his father is in an asylum; his mother is a drug addict; and he carries a burden of guilt for shooting someone once. There can be a sense of Bertolucci gloating in the thought that he is being transgressive in such a way that it will upset the 'petit bourgeoise'.
Fairy tale images also gild the edges of the film. Sleeping Beauty seems to be a touchstone for some sequences such as one where Clerici's daughter picks a vermillion apple from amoung the green. The sense of the sleep of reason is pervasive, as is the focus on appearances and willingness to destroy in order to protect appearances. Mirror, mirror... Gangster film is also strongly referenced, particularly those of a noir bent. Another ministering angel is Brecht, whose style hovers over much of the film.
Watching a scene of a head of Mussolini being dragged through the streets by a motorbike I was struck by how it seemed now to reference the past twenty years, an image from Russia, Eastern Europe or Iraq. The future does not have to be invented: just remembered.
I am glad to have finally watched this film and now look forward to watching it again. Its images seem to take on a power to talk to the subconscious and to remain spinning around the endless corridors of the mind long after the metaphorical popcorn has been swept up, the usher gone home and the mice retaken the cinema floor.
|Laurel and Hardy keep still as the dance goes on: another fine mess!|