The Francis Bacon paintings that haunt the opening credits are the first hint that life might be both tortuous and beautiful in Bertolucci’s unforgettable portrait of grief and anonymous sex in 1970s Paris. The city looks to have been built uniquely for the occasion as Brando – then 48, with shoulder-length greying hair and still so striking – gives his best performance in years as Paul, an American mourning his wife’s suicide. He finds solace in the bed of Jeanne (Maria Schneider), a pliant young thing whom he follows into an empty apartment that becomes the stage for their odd and oddly erotic affair (butter, animal noises and ‘No names!’).
Vittorio Storaro’s photography – all yellows and browns – takes its cue from Brando’s camel coat, and the film’s volatile emotional register springs from that staggering opening shot of Brando howling under a railway bridge as Schneider ambles past, carefree and beautiful. It’s Brando’s film: his monologues devastate.
Cast and crew