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Paramount Home Video presents
"I want to confess today the sin I'll commit tomorrow."
DVD ReviewDiehard dOc readers by now know well about my little man crush on Vittorio Storaro, and so while this is a terrific movie in many respects, I'm starting with a celebration of its cinematographer. In recent months we've been blessed with tremendous DVDs of some of his best work shooting films like Reds and Apocalypse Now, but his cinematography here may be his very finest hour; having to choose among them is impossible. (It's like deciding between Greg Toland's work on Citizen Kane and The Grapes of Wrath.) Storaro's work is extraordinary, but it's not a stunt; it's always in the service of Bernardo Bertolucci's impeccably told story.
As the title suggests, the film, based on a novel by Alberto Moravia, is about a man who more than anything so desperately wants to be normal. But he's not—Marcello Clerici is pressed into service by the Mussolini government, in 1938, and his pre-war honeymoon in Paris doubles as a mission of international espionage. But this isn't a story in the manner of John Le Carré, but rather a spy narrative that tells us about the suffocation of one man's soul. He seems to be stifled at every turn—by his demanding mother; by his father, whom he visits in an insane asylum; by his randy fiancée and her ostentatious quest for bourgeois status. Bertolucci is happy to bounce around and give us backstory when a more conventional film would go all cloak and dagger on us, so we revisit, for instance, 13-year-old Marcello's fatal interaction with a chauffeur, and witness the disappointment of the lecherous priest receiving his confession because the story isn't more titillating.
Much of the movie can be headspinning, and on first viewing you're never quite sure where the story is headed—it's almost like Bertolucci is cultivating that sense of imbalance in us, and we're learning more about Clerici and his world than we ever would in a more conventional narrative. You always sense his struggle—he wants to blend in, to be like everybody else, but he cannot rise above his interior life of dreams and memories. It's like he wants to be a company man, but can't suppress his individuality sufficiently, which, among other things, doesn't make him a very good Fascist. Though Bertolucci is strong on the power of crowds, too, such a vital element to the rise of Mussolini and his henchmen.
Along with Storaro, Bertolucci has assembled a marvelous company of collaborators. The costumes, by Gitt Magrini, and the production design, by Ferdinando Scarfiotti, work in perfect harmony with Storaro's camera. Jean-Louis Trintignant conveys Clerici's inner turmoil without ever becoming either self-pitying or bombastic; it's a rough central role, a man almost pathologically unable to express what it is that he wants, making Trintignant's work that much more of a triumph. Stefania Sandrelli is occasionally monstrous as Giulia, his affianced, but never so much so to make us recoil. And Gastone Moschin is a solid presence as a Fascist operative, though he may be more familiar to Godfather fans as Don Fanucci, young Vito Corleone's first rival for supremacy in Little Italy.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Storaro's work is pretty well transferred here, though the source print, in the first couple of reels particularly, looks somewhat faded and decayed. It's the look that's endemic to many of the color films of the period, so perhaps it's an inevitability; still, it's not the paradigmatic transfer you might hope for.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Almost all of the dialogue is dubbed, as the cornucopia of available audio options suggests; levels of room tone and ambient noise are frequently too high. Still, I'd recommend watching this in Bertolucci's native Italian with subtitles rather than the English-language track.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Portuguese, Spanish with remote access
Extras Review: Three featurettes, devoted to pre-production, production, and post-production respectively, all feature Bertolucci and my boyfriend Vittorio. The Rise of The Conformist: The Story, The Cast (13m:28s) is about the evolution of the project. Shadow and Light: Filming The Conformist (14m:29s) is an appreciation of the many skilled members of the production team, and The Conformist: Breaking New Ground (11m:03s) is devoted almost exclusively to the editing of the picture. A respectable package, if not a cavalcade of information.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsA ravishingly well made film about the struggle for the soul of a man who just wants to blend in. The cinematography alone makes this one easy to recommend, though that's only the most prominent of the film's many worthy attributes.
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