Tuesday, June 9, 2015

545. Ultimo tango a Parigi/Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Running Time: 129 minutes
Directed By: Bernardo Bertolucci
Written By: Bernardo Bertolucci, Franco Arcalli, Agnes Varda
Main Cast: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Maria Michi, Massimo Girotti
Click here to view the trailer


Hey, what do you know - two in one week! I must admit though, writing this review is going to be a lot tougher than the review I wrote for The Decalogue. Sure, the review for the latter was insanely long, but it was really just ten mini reviews connected together. This is one, full size, regular review for a feature length movie and the first one of those I've written in a couple months. So remember, if this sucks, be nice!

The film begins with a clearly distraught man walking the early morning streets of Paris, tears in his eyes, hair disheveled. The man is Paul (Brando), a middle aged, American living in Paris, who's wife has recently committed suicide. Ahead of him walks a young woman, a twenty-something looker, decked out in white coat and gaudy hat. She is Jeanne (Schneider) and the two walk the Parisian streets, separately, strangers for the time being. Eventually Jeanne happens upon an apartment building with a vacancy sign and being engaged and soon to be in the market for a new flat, she decides to check the place out. Upon entering the vacant, yet spacious apartment, she finds that Paul has beat her there, exchanging very few words, the two make animalistic love on the floor, before Jeanne collects herself and exits. Days later, when Jeanne returns to the scene of the "crime" to return the keys, which she accidentally took with her, she finds moving men bringing new furniture into the apartment, soon learning that Paul is renting the place. Paul convinces her to stick around, sharing with her the rules of their new love shack. Inside these walls the two will have no names. In fact, inside these walls, Paul and Jeanne will be completely oblivious to the world outside, forgetting their pasts and forgetting the present. Jeanne, an engaged woman, feels powerless in the presence of Paul, whom she can't resist. Now the two are leading double lives: Paul still the owner of a hotel that he co-owned with his wife, living with his mother-in-law (Michi), who is also in mourning and Jeanne, still engaged to aspiring filmmaker Thomas (Leaud), yet unable to control her lust for the American.


I have to admit that I was really expecting a total smut fest here. It's just another example of not judging a book by it's cover and always giving a movie a chance to wow you before you judge it. I had heard almost nothing about Last Tango in Paris, except that it had been affixed an NC-17 rating (originally an X, until 1997) and that it was filled with sex. Okay, sure the film has a few sex scenes, but it's a shame that someone completely ignorant to the film (me) was given the impression that this was nothing but smut. This film is unjustly represented as nothing more than a two hour romp in the sack, never with any mention of it's breath taking cinematography, moving score, interesting characters and fantastic performances (especially Brando). In fact, let's tackle those fantastic performances right off the bat. Has Brando ever been better? Let's see: I didn't care for him particularly in On the Waterfront; his small role in Apocalypse Now was great but too short; One Eyed Jacks and Guys and Dolls were both just mediocre and while he is fantastic in The Godfather, I'd call his portrayal of a depressed American named Paul in Last Tango in Paris the best that Brando's ever been and the main reason we should all still be remembering Marlon still today. And did you know that this was only Maria Schneider's eighth film and that most of the previous seven films she'd done were simply bit parts in French movies that no one's probably heard of? I'd be willing to bet that this girl was ultra intimidated by Brando's chops, yet she somehow manages to hold her own and the two together produce the most memorable scenes from the movie. In fact, it's their scenes together that make this movie and made me dread the scenes she shared with Leaud or who I like to call the poster boy for the artsy French film. I would have been fine with this whole film taking place inside the walls of the apartment, but hey, I'm a fan of minimalist filmmaking.

Sure the Brando character is crass, but anyone who considers the film as a whole obscene needs to stop taking themselves so seriously. The characters here are deep: the Brando character clearly in pain and trying to figure out his life following the death of a wife he clearly loved very much, more importantly the suicide death, which puts him in even more of a state of confusion. And then there's Schneider's Jeanne, who is still young and also confused, still probably confused by the world around her, the lust she feels for this brash American, confused by her relationship status. Should she go with the filmmaker who worships her or the American who disregards her, who doesn't think much of her beyond her private parts. However, Paul and Jeanne (even though they know nothing of one another) do have a chemistry. Dig that scene where the two share their new names, grunting sounds into each other's faces while they sit naked, tangled together, just two human beings on a floor in the middle of Paris, sharing a moment.

I must say though, I wasn't very pleased with that ending. Having Paul go completely mad and chase Jeanne through the streets, only to have her shoot him in her real apartment didn't do much for me. Perhaps it was eluding to the fact that these two could only exist in this one place in the world and that any attempt to have them exist as a real couple, in the real world, would explode, resulting in their demise. I'd like to think that's the case and therefore, I guess it makes sense. Although, I just don't feel the Paul character should've been killed by the Jeanne character. I'd have much preferred Paul to kill himself, justifying it in his head as getting at Jeanne as his wife got at him. Did anyone else get the feeling that it was going to be revealed that Rose was actually murdered by Paul? Anyway, let me wrap this, as I feel like I'm rambling at this point. The film is a very good one, reaching that upper echelon of movies that I'd consider a candidate for the next TOP 20 list. It's filled with two or three handfuls of beautiful shots, not to mention characters that will probably make me want to watch this movie again and again, stripping them down, trying to decipher their motivations and "get" them. The score is a saxophonist's dream, sometimes playing against the flow of the film, but usually working in it's favor. The performances are great and as I said, I've never seen Brando better. The whole thing adds up to a fantastic film that makes me disappointed that it's only ever labeled as a sex romp, while it's actually a thought provoking, meaningful film that will make an audience member ponder previous relationships, as well as his ultimate fate...or something like that.

RATING: 7.5/10  REALLY, really close to an '8' but I couldn't get it there justly. This is one that I can definitely see myself watching over and over and loving more after every viewing. Definitely the best Bertolucci from THE BOOK thus far.


June 9, 2015  5:05pm


  1. MMMmmmm .. I'm afraid I was not impressed.
    So I'm kind of pleased ypu found something in it.. I just found it boring.. and highly un erotic. Whilst I don't think it's intention was to be a turn on.. but was it supposed to be quite so much of a turn off as I found it? Well, maybe... but in the actuality, I just couldn't be bothered to care.
    Sorry.. Not much of a reply to a thought out post...

    1. No need for sorries Ray. I'm always happy to hear your opinions. I guess we'll just have to mark this one in the disagree column. And if I remember correctly, we were doing so well at agreeing before my break


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