The Conformist

Bertolucci’s beautiful, idea-laden and thrilling film noir, released in post-événements 1970, opens with a Paris hotel sign flashing on a man with a fedora, a gun and a naked woman. But Bertolucci’s late-’30s-set adaptation of Albert Moravia’s novel examining Italy’s fascist past was no exercise in black-and-white nostalgia.

The noir elements – the complex flash-back structure and the out-of-kilter ‘Third Man’-syle camera angles framing its anti-hero, volunteer assassin Jean-Louis Trintignant – are a mere frame, pencil drawings on which cinematographer Vittorio Storaro paints his Freudian washes of blue and red.

Even at the time of the ‘The Conformist’, with its poison-penned quotations of Godard, Bertolucci was already showing himself the greatest pleasure seeker of the ‘children of Marx and Coca-Cola’ agit-prop school. Trintignant’s classically-educated Marcello Clerici – he quotes Emperor Hadrian and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave – is the epitome of the repressed bourgeois, so ashamed of his ‘mad’ father and opium-addicted mother to be delighted, in shades of Sartre’s Daniel, to be married to a ‘mediocre’ wife ‘full of paltry ideas’ and prepared to commit murder to follow the flow of fascist political fashion. Until that is, he claps eyes on the beautiful, decadent wife (Dominique Sanda) of his old tutor and present target, Professor Quadri (Enzo Tarascio).

It’s a dazzling film, dated only in its sense of passionate intellectual engagement, which seductively balances its seditious syllabus of politics, philosophy and sex with a serio-comic tone, exemplified by Gastone Moschin’s near pantomimic Blackshirt and Georges Delerue’s delightful score.

Release details

Rated: 18
Release date: Friday February 29 2008
Duration: 108 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Screenwriter: Bernardo Bertolucci
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant
Stefania Sandrelli
Gastone Moschin
Enzo Taroscio
Pierre Clémenti
Dominique Sanda
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