Combustible Celluloid Review - The Conformist (1970), Bernardo Bertolucci, based on a novel by Alberto Moravia, Bernardo Bertolucci, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Dominique Sanda, Enzo Tarascio, Gastone Moschin
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Dominique Sanda, Enzo Tarascio, Gastone Moschin
Written by: Bernardo Bertolucci, based on a novel by Alberto Moravia
Directed by: Bernardo Bertolucci
MPAA Rating: R
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 120
Date: 05/31/1970

The Conformist (1970)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Bertolucci's Beginning

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Long unavailable on video, and yet considered one of the greatest films ever made, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist (1970) finds its way to the Balboa Theater this week in a spectacular new print with fresh subtitles. I had never seen it before, and I can tell you it's a treat.

Told through the magnificent color cinematography of Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now), The Conformist follows a quasi-fascist Marcello Clerici (Jean Louis Trintignant) as he travels to Paris for his honeymoon but also on a secret assignment to kill his former professor.

Unfortunately, he finds the professor's slinky, blond wife (Dominique Sanda) far more enticing than his own, dippy bourgeois bride (Stefania Sandrelli), and we realize that Marcello's political beliefs are as fickle as his romantic ones.

The film causes some confusion with its radical editing style; with no explanation, it keeps returning to Marcello and a partner driving toward the spot in which the murder is to take place, not to mention other sequences designed to look like patches of memory or snatches of dreams.

But Bertolucci's reckless, youthful skill (he was 29) and Storaro's ravishing photography hold it together. A dozen excellent sequences, even if they don't startle you in the moment, will stick with you long afterwards: a leaf-strewn driveway, a foyer covered in huge paintings attended by a stooped-over crone or a shopping trip in Paris.

Best of all is the shocking murder scene, set in the spooky woods with treetops swaying and creaking in the wind; Bertolucci and Storaro employ an early version of today's popular hand-held shaky cam, but done correctly, so that the images are still clearly visible and the emotions register effectively.

All students of film should drop everything and see this movie. It shows that not everything need be explained or resolved, that beautiful cinematography can actually help tell the story and that characters can actually change their minds without alienating the audience.

Paramount's long-awaited (and reasonably priced) DVD looks amazing, capturing the film's rich colors and extraordinary depth-of-field perfectly. It comes with a three-part documentary, made up mainly of clips and a sit-down interview with Bertolucci today, remembering his experiences in making the film.

In 2014, Raro Video released a Blu-ray edition that improves on the old DVD in every way, truly highlighting Storaro's incredible cinematography. It includes an hour-long visual essay, trailers, and a nice liner notes booklet.

In 2023, Raro released a new Blu-ray edition, featuring a brand-new restoration from the original camera negative, which looks as brilliant as it sounds (this is one of the best looking films ever made). There's a 25-minute interview with Valentina Ricciardelli, president of the Bernardo Bertolucci Foundation, and a new commentary track by film critic Bilge Ebiri, and a new trailer. The new release also includes the older Blu-ray, for posterity! Highly Recommended.

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