English Title: Last Tango in Paris
Original title: Ultimo tango a Parigi
Country: Italy, France
Language: English, French
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Music: Gato Barbieri
Cinematography: Vittorio Storaro
For a man, what could be more personally satisfying than overpowering his perfect object of desire solely by his sexual prowess? That’s the scenario in Bertolucci’s self-fulfilling, exotic and provocative LAST TANGO IN PARIS, telling based on his own sexual fantasies, a privilege which has been a substantial stimulus to encourage generations of youngsters to become a filmmaker, but only those very few in the top tier can achieve that gratification with momentum and flourishes, even Bertolucci couldn’t get away with lambaste and the film has been perpetually on the list of films that shock the world!
Jeanne (Schneider), a 20-year-old parisienne, comes across a near-rape sexual intercourse with a middle-aged American expatriate Paul (Brando) in an empty apartment which is available for rent. Downright to her own volition, she comes back to the apartment (now rented by Paul) again and again, to partake in the act of love, and even unabashedly falls in love with him, that’s the upmost elixir to boost a man’s ego (Bertolucci does know how to patronising heterosexual males). Paul forbids themselves from revealing each other’s names, and claims that he doesn’t want to know any concrete information about her, and vice versa. “Everything outside this apartment means nothing to us” So, who is Paul outside that apartment?
We see a grief-ridden man, wanders around in bereavement after his wife committed suicide, which hits him like a severe jolt, therefore, he is in the limbo of mourning, questioning, self-doubting and resentment, he and her wife run a low-rent hotel in Paris, they had been married for 5 years, and in the end of the day, he has to face the music that he has never been able to understand her, he can even host a pleasant conversation on the face value with her wife’s lover Marcel (a down-to-earth Girotti and still gets his appeal in his 50s), a lodger in their hotel. So, meaningless no-strings-attached sex becomes his go-to option to assuage his discombobulated state, once Jeanne is hooked. who is so naively impressionable and totally loses herself in the mysterious halo of “it’s beautiful without knowing anything”, the sex becomes an addiction, a ritual gratifies the needs of both. Out of the apartment, Jeanne has a filmmaker boyfriend Tom (a customarily neurotic Léaud), who is shooting a documentary about her, and will propose to her later in the film.
Is actress Maria Schneider being exploited in her career-making/typecasting role? Who admittedly confessed her ill-treated experience of shooting this film. Let’s take a step back from a feminist POV, and perceive the film in a plain angle of egalitarianism, the lascivious fetish of Schneider’s sultry body presented in constant nakedness has never been balanced out by Brando’s (supposedly) unsightly figure in all his frankness (maybe, Bertolucci simply cannot pay the sum to convince Brando to reveal some of his sagging skin), not to mention the unsolicited sodomy scene (which has forever ruined butter for me), Schneider was completely taken by surprise, on that front, Bertolucci is exploitative, sinister, sadistic and misogynist.
However, simply disregarding all the behind-the-camera trivia (which is not an easy task and sometimes involuntarily infuses some preconceived sentiment into one’s subjective judgement), and taking a forensic look into the film per se, in its claustrophobic, ill-lit interior shots, what Bertolucci achieves with the sinuously fluid movement of his camera is something masterfully seductive, voyeuristic, intimate and thought-provoking, two total strangers, unburdened from formality and luxuriate in their primal libido and form a rather wholesome rapport devoid of any negativity associated with reality – that’s everyone’s unsaid fantasy, but in sheer perception, Bertolucci also shows that such purity can be fragilely sullied by the world outside, literally outside that apartment, where, in the third act, when Paul moves out, and then flippantly courts Jeanne on the street, in the tango bar, how foolish he is when he becomes love-struck, the magical potion doesn’t work in broad daylight, where Jeanne will ultimately realise Paul is no more than another nettlesome suitor, only much older, and at her age, he is far from a premium worth her time and effort while the world is her oyster, something menacing looms in the offing in the hard-pressed eagerness, there will be no happy ending out of it. It serves as a poignant elegy for these out-of-depth sad sacks like him, and a wake-up call for those young creatures like her.
Brando sinks in his role exceedingly in conveying Paul’s frame-of-mind, initially in his unapologetically threatening and unfathomable mode, remarkably eases into his varied facets: cantankerous mood-swing, tender reminiscence and vulnerability, notably during his show-stopping monologue in front of his flowers-adorned deceased wife, only before long, he will make a fool of himself. Schneider instills a more unaffected, also cruder impression with a susceptible inclination for servitude either confronted by masculinity or whetted by novelty, a common mistake for starters.
As its graphic depiction of (perverse) sex act loses its taboo in a more liberal present world, Bertolucci’s controversial pièce de résistance might get a more impartial reappraisal by focusing on its accumulative evocation of inexplicable human feelings rather than on its politically incorrect modus operandi borne out of some bold but insensitive considerations, or perhaps, it is just my wishful thinking, plus notoriety always sells the tickets.