MGM |1972 | 129 mins. | NC -17
Definitely not for everyone, Last Tango In Paris may be a landmark in filmmaking, but it’s also a dirty, misogynistic soap opera. While some list it among the all time classics, it’s hard for me to see it as more than one of the most pretentious films of all time. Some have called Last Tango one of the sexiest films of all time—each time I see it, the less sexy it becomes. Let’s face it; the entire point is to watch an aging, flabby Marlon Brando treat a young French woman like a interchangeable whore.
Paul (Brando), a long-time resident of Paris and in his mid forties, is a man in crisis. Recently, his French wife Rosa (Veronica Lazare) committed suicide, leaving behind no note. All she’s left behind are a run-down hotel, Marcel (Massimo Girotti), a lover of no obvious attraction, and a Catholic mother (Maria Michi) in deep mourning. To escape the oppressive walls of their dark home, Paul takes to walking the streets.
As the film opens, Paul is walking the streets aimlessly. Walking just ahead of him is Jeanne (Maria Schneider), a young bride-to-be searching for an apartment. When she finds one of interest, Paul is already there—he stole the key and is using the room to sit and sulk. Within minutes though, he seems to find a new energy; as grabs the young girl and without a word, they have fumbled, hard sex against the wall, removing just enough clothing to get the job done. There’s nothing loving about the act; this is pure, animalistic copulation. Paul rents the apartment and tells Jeanne the rules: “I want to know nothing about you,” he says, with emotionless authority. “We’re gonna meet in here and forget everything about out there.”
I have read that idea for Last Tango In Paris came from director Bernardo Bertolucci’s own sexual fantasies. He stated that he “dreamed of seeing a beautiful nameless woman on the street and having sex with her without ever knowing who she was.” I don’t know if his fantasy included treating the woman like a rag doll, but here, Jeanne is little more than Paul’s sex slave; with little discussion, she gives in to each and every sexual whim Paul conjures up.
The two seem to form a psychic bond brimming with passion and resentment. Paul spends most of the time ordering Jeanne around, physically abuses her when the mood strikes and regularly forces himself on her sexually. Any who has seen the film might grimace at the mention of the phrase, “pass the butter,” uttered by Brando at the mid-point of the film. Nonetheless, she doesn’t appreciate being treated like a slave but sometimes enjoys being manhandled.
Thankfully, Bertolucci (who wrote the script with Franco Arcalli and Agnès Varda), gives both characters an interesting backstory, which gives necessary depth to the characters. As stated earlier, Paul is a recent widower via suicide and dealing the ramifications of that. Jeanne is engaged to an idealistic artist (Jean-Pierre Leaud) who wants to depict their love on film, allowing a film crew to document them in various forms of manufactured embrace.
In Paul, Bertolucci attempts, but ultimately fails, to show a man desperately trying to mask his pain. The filmmaker seems so driven to push the sexual envelope that at times what could be a deeper, emotional story gets lost in yet another act of misogyny. The narrative is not skillfully structured nor even artfully meandering—the characters do a lot of things seemingly with the sole purpose of being controversial.
Like I said, Last Tango In Paris isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Some will see it as a revelation, others not so much. While I don’t think the acting, writing or directing is anything remarkable, I would simply say this is likely a movie people love or hate.
MGM´s 1080P transfer is far from pristine. However, having seen the film in several other formats, one wonders if that is largely due to the way the film was shot. It seems as though Bertoolucci was concerned with capturing spontaneity rather than beauty. To that end, the film sports a heavy grain and you never get any significant use out of the upgrades HD offers.
The DTS Master Audio track is rather flat but clean. The compositions of Gato Barbieri receive a distant but true audio representation via the lossless track and sound crisp, but lack range or depth.
We get no special features aside from a trailer.
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