The Essential Movie Library #62: The Conformist (1970)

In The Conformist Bertolucci struck his most successful balance between the sensual exhilaration of cinema and the discipline devoted to telling a story

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By 1970 the movies finally caught up with the ‘60s, and American movies were still catching up with a new European cinema confronting all the ways in which the old order became so toxic. Maybe the most revelatory moment of The Conformist, which takes place in the 1930s, isn’t when lapsed intellectual and fascist recruit Jean-Louis Trintignant pursues his old college professor (whose wife—played by Dominique Sanda when Brigitte Bardot turned down the part—he’s been sleeping with) to assassinate him for philosophical transgressions; rather it’s when he goes to confession to absolve himself not of murder but rather of feeling no guilt for having committed murder. In turn the priest is most dismayed not by the murder or lack of remorse but rather the admission of a homosexual affair. The moral universe as defined by church and state flips upside down.

Barely out of his twenties when he adapted the novel by Alberto Moravia, Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, in collaboration with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, always has been an imagist sometimes to his self-indulgent detriment (even as it often has been to our delight, self-indulgence notwithstanding). In The Conformist Bertolucci struck his most successful balance between the sensual exhilaration of cinema and the discipline devoted to telling a story—so maybe it’s no accident that, in the movie’s collision of fascism and a sexuality at once repressed and cruel, lies an epiphany about the allure and even perverse beauty of totalitarianism and depravity. In retrospect Bertolucci’s next endeavor, Last Tango in Paris, not only made sense but was the only creative avenue possible.

Read them all:
The Essential Movie Library #61: Bonnie & Clyde
The Essential Movie Library #60: Sweet Smell of Success
The Essential Movie Library #59: Melancholia
The Essential Movie Library #58: La Dolce Vita
The Essential Movie Library #57: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
The Essential Movie Library #56: Contempt
The Essential Movie Library #55: Sunset Boulevard
The Essential Movie Library #54: Metropolis
The Essential Movie Library #53: In A Lonely Place
The Essential Movie Library #52: Talk to Her

The Essential Movie LIbrary #51: To Be or Not To Be
The Essential Movie Library #50: The Battle of Algiers
The Essential Movie Library #49: Notorious
The Essential Movie Library #48: Wings of Desire
The Essential Movie Library #47: L’Avventura
The Essential Movie Library #46: Malcolm X
The Essential Movie Library #45: In the Mood for Love
The Essential Movie Library #44: Touch of Evil
The Essential Movie Library #43: Once Upon A Time in the West
The Essential Movie Library #42: Belle de Jour
The Essential Movie Library #41: Apocalypse Now
The Essential Movie Library #40: Out of the Past
The Essential Movie Library #39: Branded to Kill
The Essential Movie Library #38: The General
The Essential Movie Library #37: Lord of the Rings
The Essential Movie Library #36: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
The Essential Movie Library #35: Raging Bull
The Essential Movie Library #34: The Rules of the Game
The Essential Movie Library #33: Chinatown 
The Essential Movie Library #32: Stalker
The Essential Movie Library #31: Weekend
The Essential Movie Library #30: Some Like It Hot 
The Essential Movie Library #29: Red River
The Essential Movie Library #28: The Passenger
The Essential Movie Library #27: Singin’ in the Rain
The Essential Movie Library #26: Heat
The Essential Movie Library #25: L’Atalante
The Essential Movie Library #24: Sunrise
The Essential Movie Library #23: His Girl Friday
The Essential Movie Library #22: Black Narcissus
The Essential Movie Library #21: Blade Runner
The Essential Movie Library #20: Persona
The Essential Movie Library #19: The Shop Around the Corner
The Essential Movie Library #18: Lost Highway
The Essential Movie Library #17: Tokyo Story
The Essential Movie Library #16: 8 1/2

The Essential Movie Library #15: City Lights
The Essential Movie Library #14: Seven Samurai
The Essential Movie Library #13: Lawrence of Arabia
The Essential Movie Library #12: Citizen Kane
The Essential Movie Library #11: Jules and Jim
The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine 
The Essential Movie Library #9: Double Indemnity 
The Essential Movie Library #8: That Obscure Object of Desire 
The Essential Movie Library #7: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
The Essential Movie Library #6: Casablanca
The Essential Movie Library #5: The Lady Eve
The Essential Movie Library #4: The Third Man 
The Essential Movie Library #3: The Passion of Joan of Arc 
The Essential Movie Library #2: Vertigo 
The Essential Movie Library #1: The Godfather Trilogy

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