By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Trying to fit-in.
Marcello (Jean Louis Trintignant) is living in Italy during WWII and a member of the fascist secret police. He longs to be a part of acceptable society and partaking in the conventions of what he believes is a normal life including settling down and getting married even if it’s to a woman Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) that he doesn’t really love. He gets ordered to assassinate Quadri (Enzo Tarascio) who was one of his professors back in college, but who has now been deemed an anti-fascist by the government. Marcello uses the guise of his honeymoon as an excuse to travel with Giulia to Paris in order to carry out his mission. However, once there he begins to have feelings for the professor’s wife Anna (Dominique Sanda) and becomes unable to carry out the assignment despite being aware that Anna is only using him to get to Giulia, which is who she truly desires.
This film became a benchmark in Bernardo Bertullici’s career and was his first box office success that allowed him the ability to go on and direct even bigger classics such as The Last Tango in Paris and 1900. While the visuals are impressively stylistic I do agree with many critics that too much emphasis is placed on the sets, that gives it an almost over-the-top kitschy feel, while drowning out the story, which is handled in a more subtle way, in the process. The plot is still captivating, but a good movie should have a nice balance and as critic Gene Siskel stated in his review it’s more of a ‘show than a story’ and reviewer Keven Thomas labeled it a ‘bravura style Fellini’, which I consider to be a very accurate description.
The story is based on the 1951 novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia, but apparently Bertolucci had never read it when he pitched the idea to Paramount and managed to wow the studio execs into loving the idea simply by relying on the the description of the story giving to him by his then-girlfriend who had read it. When he finally did read it he did so while writing it into a screenplay at the same time.
There are many differences though between the source novel and the film with the movie leaving out a lot of Marcello’s childhood backstory that I felt was needed. The book examines Marcello’s penchant for killing lizards and even the neighbor’s cat as well as his witnessing his father’s abusing of his mother and the vandalization of a family photograph, which the film doesn’t touch on. The book also gets into more detail about why Marcello is tormented by his classmates where in the film we see Marcello being harassed, but it’s never made clear why.
The ending gets changed too. In the book Marcello has an interesting philosophical debate with Lino, a chauffer who sexually abused him as a child, but this conversation is left out of the movie. Marcello also, along with his wife and child, gets gunned down while driving in their car, but surprisingly the movie doesn’t have this part either. You would think that they would since action makes for a good visual, and I’m not sure for the reason why it was left out/revised except that Bertolucci may have feared it would be too similar to the finale in Bonnie and Clyde and didn’t want to seem like he was replicating that one.
End of Spoiler Alert!
Overall despite these deviations I still found it impactful particularly the ambush scene on a lonely road, which was the one thing that I remembered about the movie after having not seen in for several decades. The strong performances help too especially Trintignant’s brooding portrayal though being French born he spoke his lines phonetically without knowing what they meant and then later had them dubbed by Sergio Graziani in post production. The two lead actresses are splendid too and although the parts were originally offered to the more famous Brigitte Bardot and Anouk Aimee I felt it came off better with the then unknowns particularly Sandrelli who’s energetic and almost child-like at the beginning only to behave like jaded, middle-aged woman by the conclusion.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: July 1, 1970
Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Available: DVD, Blu-ray