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The Conformist
cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin, Dominique Sanda, and Pierre Clementi

director: Bernardo Bertolucci

111 minutes (R) 1970
widescreen ratio 1.66:1
Paramount NTSC DVD Regions 1 + 4 retail

RATING: 10/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
In 1930s' Italy, Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is about to be married to Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli). Driven by an urge he barely understands to fit into society, he is recruited by a secret fascist organisation. He volunteers to travel to France and to seek out the anti-fascist Professor Quadri (Enzo Tarascio) but then he meets Quadri's wife Anna (Dominique Sanda).

If his later work - such as the multi-Oscared The Last Emperor and especially Little Buddha - has declined into dull respectability, watching The Conformist (aka: Il conformista) is to be reminded what a vital force Bernardo Bertolucci was in world cinema, fully the equal of the movie brats who were shaking up Hollywood at the time. Consider this - he made this film before he was 30 and had notched up Last Tango In Paris and 1900 (also released on DVD by Paramount in conjunction with this disc) by age 35. He can be forgiven a lot for that.

While his earlier Before The Revolution and The Spider's Stratagem have many admirers, few would deny The Conformist its status as one of Bertolucci's masterpieces. His fifth feature, it was based on the novel by Alberto Moravia, and tells its story in a series of flashbacks - and one key flashback within the flashbacks to childhood - as Marcello travels to carry out his assassination. As the film progresses it becomes clear that Marcello's overwhelming urge to conform comes from knowledge that he is actually different. This is particularly manifested in a repressed homosexuality, which becomes clear in a childhood episode where he shoots the family chauffeur who is trying to seduce him. There's nothing behind the mask Marcello hides behind - a void ready to be filled by whichever ideology is going.

Bertolucci states that his first four films were drawn from life. With The Conformist he drew not just from life but also from cinema. If nothing else, the film is an exhilarating display of what the cinema can do in the hands of a gifted director. Vittorio Storaro's camerawork is an integral part of this: his use of colour and light and shade (note the use of shadows to produce the bars of the 'cage' Marcello is in). Bertolucci and Storaro make up one of the great director and cinematographer partnerships. This was their second film together and countless DPs ever since have attested to the influence of Storaro's work here. Oddly, Storaro was not Oscar-nominated for this film, though Bertolucci was for the screenplay.

The Conformist is ultimately a director and cinematographer's film, but we can't forget the contribution of Georges Delerue's music score and Fernando Scarfiotti's production design. Jean-Louis Trintignant is perfect casting as the guarded Marcello, and Dominique Sanda gives one of her best performances as the beautiful, wilful bisexual Anna.

The DVD is in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and anamorphically enhanced. The preferable soundtrack is the original Italian mono (with some French), though as is common with Italian films, lip-synch is less than perfect in places. Dubbed versions are available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French, with subtitles in the first three of those languages. The extras comprise three featurettes: The Rise Of The Conformist: The Story, The Cast (13 minutes), Shadow And Light: Filming The Conformist (14 minutes), and The Conformist: Breaking New Ground (11 minutes). All three feature interviews with Bertolucci and Storaro. Oddly, the film extracts shown are dubbed into English.
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