Directed by: Bernardo Bertolucci
Countries & Regions: France, Italy
Studio: Arrow Films
Length: 113 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 1 October 2012
Cat No: FCD709
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Bernardo Bertolucci directs this powerful psychological thriller, considered by many to be his masterpiece. Jean-Louis Trintignant stars... Read More
Although his previous work had earned him a certain reputation, it was with The Conformist that Bernardo Bertolucci became a truly great director. Early promise had matured into genuine mastery. For the first time, he fully assimilated his impulses and influences, creating a work that can truthfully be described as a masterpiece.
It’s a film charged with Bertolucci’s concerns: sex, psychology, politics and cinema. Young Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) was molested by the family chauffeur; he grows up desperate to erase the shame and does so by rigid conformity. Further embarrassed by his father’s reputation (the old man is incarcerated in an asylum), Clerici falls in behind Mussolini as he goose-steps into power.
With his marriage to a good bourgeois woman his conformity seems absolute, but the mask doesn’t fit as well as he hoped. The government orders him to spend his honeymoon in Paris, and to mix his pleasure with business by murdering one of his former professors, an outspoken critic of the Italian state. It is a task complicated by the feelings he develops for the professor’s wife and, perhaps, a twinge of revulsion. So, Italy’s moral collapse is embodied by a weak man who wants to appear strong. It might be instructive to compare The Conformist with Pasolini’s Salò, which also depicts the barbarity of the fascist state in terms of sexual aberration, albeit by observing animalistic indulgence rather than repression.
The Conformist is one of the most sumptuous films ever made, with the whole film consciously parallelling Hollywood glamour and the fascist aesthetic. Bertolucci and production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti contrast the monochrome Clerici with striking art deco settings, while cinematographer Vittorio Storaro marries freewheeling new wave camera choreography to the kaleidoscopic lighting of an MGM musical.
The film was made at the very height of Bertolucci’s powers, in a dazzling year in which he also produced The Spider’s Stratagem. He would produce other remarkable films: all are worth owning. The Conformist, however, is essential.