The Conformist

The Conformist (1970) movie poster

(1970) dir. Bernardo Bertolucci
viewed: 04/30/07

Strangely, I don’t think I had ever seen a Bernardo Bertolucci film before a couple years ago when I saw his film The Dreamers (2003) which was when I wasn’t updating this diary.  I found that movie unbelievably pretentious and obnoxious.  The Conformist, on the other hand, perhaps his most notable film, is something else altogether.  This film is actually quite interesting.

Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s compositions and environmental selections are often bizarre and highly Modernist.  Characters and scenes are often framed or composed of strange angles, lines, or even compartments in which characters are separated visually.  Some of the location shots are in large, inorganic buildings or rooms in which the individual is shrunken to a minor image in the field.  This all ties into the bulk of the film’s intent, showing a man who has compressed himself into a marginal figure without any soul or morality.

Marcello Clerici, the titular “conformist”, is a repressed and tortured individual who has negated himself, any sense of his own beliefs, his sexual orientation, his political beliefs, and ultimately the love of his life, to the Fascist state of Italy circa 1938.  While the film is an utter criticism of the mindless following of authority, it is also highly sympathetic with Marcello’s complex and problematic nature, though unforgiving of his complete lack of morality or belief system and how that stoic attitude allowed for cruel violence and a complete obliteration of the soul.

But really, beyond the power of the narrative, the film’s visual opulence and period setting certainly sets the stage for many of the films that followed in its footsteps in the 1970’s.  I would be willing to guess that this film had impact on Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather films and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984).  Those perhaps are not the best examples, but those two come to mind.

The other weird thing about this movie was trying to figure out what language to view it in.  Strangely, the dubbed(?) English seemed to match lip synchronization better than the endemic(?) Italian.  From what I can see with web research, Italian (logically) was the original language.  I don’t know.  It was kind of weird.  Still, a good film.

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