Saturday, September 4, 2010

#177 Ultimo Tango a Parigi [Last Tango in Paris] (1972)


Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Cast: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Maria Michi, Giovanna Galietti, Gitt Magrini

"Go get the butter."

Last Tango in Paris is the story of Paul (Brando), an American businessman living in Paris whose wife has just committed suicide. Those are the facts. But the truth about this character is that he has been reduced so greatly by his sorrow that all that remains left of his ability to express himself are the banest, cruelest, and most animalistic urges.

When Jeanne (Schneider) goes apartment-hunting for herself and her fiance, she walks into an empty, dingy apartment and finds Paul sitting in the dark. When he begins to rape her, she casually accepts, and soon the two have made a deal to continue to meet there regularly-- no names, no feelings, no questions.

The brutal, anonymous love-making of Paul and Jeanne is sensual but cruel, and it could be argued that it is one of the most raw portrayals of emotion ever on screen. How appropriate was Brando's casting in this role-- I can't even begin to express. The ferocity of his method acting makes Paul's character undeniably (and frighteningly) real. Whether Brando was an obnoxious person doesn't change my opinion about his ability to bring a character to life. When he acts, you can actually sense his character's thoughts and emotions boiling right behind his face. I felt this was so necessary for Paul-- after all, he's the hero of a movie with the only moving plotline being his slowly growing grief.

A lot of controversy was stirred up by the amount sex in this film at the time of its release, and even more criticism was thrown at the director for showing Schneider naked many, many times but never Brando. It's true, it can feel a bit debasing or humiliating to the female, but that's exactly the point of this film-- that was their relationship. She was an object, a vessel, and she allowed herself to be that outlet for the volcanic, hungry needs of Paul.

The greatness of this on-screen relationship is the honesty that is presented through what they choose not to say. The way two people can be using each other simultaneously for very different things. Or the way that one person can allow another work something out through them.

This isn't one of my favorite films, I can tell, and it never will be. I can say, however, that I have tremendous respect for it. This is one of those films where the portrayed emotions are so overwhelming that you almost bow down to the film-maker for just finally getting it all out into the open. A little bit less weight is on our shoulders. Or at least that's how I felt.

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