The Conformist (1970)
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Written by Alberto Moravia, Bernardo Bertolucci
Produced by Maurizio Lodi-Fè, Giovanni Bertolucci
Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin, Dominique Sanda, José Quaglio, Enzo Tarascio, Pierre Clémenti
"We do not believe in programs, in plans, in saints or apostles; above all, we do not believe in happiness, in salvation, in the promised land."
--Benito Mussolini, Fascism
Memories of his preteen sexual crisis, father's insanity, mother's depravity, insinuation into the National Fascist Party, impious scorn, wile to ease his engagement to a lovely yet frivolous fiancee (Sandrelli), and obsession with the mistress (Sanda) who loathes him clarify in cutbacks the perversion of a bureaucrat (Trintignant) as he pursues with a brutish government agent (Moschin) his past professor (Tarascio), a subversive who he's commissioned to assassinate. Bertolucci's anachronic classic adapts Moravia's postwar novel with gripping dynamism, selectively consorting stylistic elements of interwar expressionism, his nation's neorealism, and the German, French, Japanese, American, etc. new waves with enthralling panache: in continual motion, each masterful scene tracks his subjects to stress signification, often turning panoramically or zooming out to disclosure. Succulent shots therein were dazzlingly photographed by Vittorio Storaro at the pinnacle of his powers to exhibit a cast nearly as attractive as their Roman, Parisian and rural locales, and Ferdinando Scarfiotti's production design is itself a meticulous model of period replication, for which sets assiduously appointed by Maria Paola Maino breathe the zeitgeist of Il Duce's era almost as pungently as footage shot at the E.U.R., and especially within the sprawling, austerely modern magnificence of the Palazzo dei Congressi. Purposive only to achieve normality in a country as essentially unnatural as its allies and enemies, and a party unabashedly brimming with erratics, Trintignant's orthomaniacal hardliner queerly reflects his society's hypocrisy while failing to mask his peculiarity. To ooze his suppressed conflict, fervor and homosexuality, the single most superbly saturnine leading man of his generation was ideally cast, a farouche foil to Sandrelli's charming yet vacuous vivacity, the gruff charisma with which Moschin cloaks his spy's vicious impenitence, and Sanda's quietly desperate despite. Ominously comic, elegantly emblematic, replete with innuendoes and consummately staged and performed, this recherché achievement lucidly instances how personal frailties are exploited to advance ideological tyranny without stupidly confusing these phenomena with an aesthetic refinement and thematic maturity unimaginable in a contemporary leftist drama. Further, Bertolucci's constriction of Moravia's diegetic perspective to that of his disingenuously unreliable protagonist cannily contrasts his intellectual profundity and emotional superficiality, as during a reunion where Tarascio's educator is confronted by his bygone student to challenge his interpretation of Plato's troglodytic allegory, when a helical dance initiated by Sandrelli's cheery inamorata daunts the anthropophobe, and in his every craven betrayal. For this umbratile man and his movement, mundanity's baffled by villainy and excellence alike.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Z or The Godfather, Part II, for which Coppola was inspired to cunningly imitate many of Bertolucci's techniques, and cast Moschin as a swaggering racketeer.