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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Last Tango In Paris Blu-ray Review

Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris is one of the most controversial yet celebrated movies in film history.  In fact, when it was released it was with an “X” rating and was protested by many women’s groups.  The press either seemed to love  it or hate it.  Some like Pauline Kael said that, “Tango has altered the face of an art form,” while others like William F. Buckley described it as “Pornography disguised as art.”
Many critics still believe that this movie provided Marlon Brando the best role in his career which earned him an Oscar nomination along with a nomination for Bernardo Bertolucci for direction.

Film (2 out of 5 stars) 

Two strangers meet in a apartment that’s available to rent.  The young woman Jeanne (Maria Schneider) is slightly nervous but excited to finally have found an available place to rent that has a lot of space. The disheveled older man named Paul (Marlon Brando) sits in a corner not caring much about anything.  A few minutes later they will have sex.  From that point on, the apartment becomes their personal rendezvous spot, a place where they meet for sex and nothing else.  There is to be no sharing of their names or any talk of their personal lives as decreed by Paul.  When pressed for his name by Jeanne, he utters guttural animal noises and assures her that is good enough.  So the two strangers meet day after day to have sex and pontificate on what it all means.
While the two of them don’t learn about each other, we the viewers discover that when they are away from the apartment, both people lead unfortunate lives.  Paul is a recently widowed owner of a dingy flop-house that he inherited from his wife after she committed suicide.  Jeanne is engaged to be married to a TV director  named Tom (Jean Pierre Leaud) who films every second he has with her (much to her regret) for later broadcast.  Both characters are living in a prison not of their own making, as Paul deals with the aftermath of his wife’s suicide and taking care of the flop-house he despises, and Jeanne who has her every move followed and captured on film by her fiancee who has taken his idea of romance to the point of absurdity.
While Paul has to deal with his mother-in-law’s plans for his wife’s funeral which involve the church and more than he wants, he also has to come to grips with the fact that his wife was cheating on him with one of their tenants.  Rather than angrily confronting the man, he calmly talks to the man and accepts the fact that his wife was unfaithful to him with only a small degree of bitterness.   Jeanne feels like she is being used both by Paul but also by Tom and she lashes out at the fiancee and gravitates even further towards Paul.  Unfortunately for her, Paul’s own feelings of anger, inferiority, and aggression are channeled into his sex with her and it isn’t long before he rapes her in an apparent need to feel more in control and to reacquire his manhood which he feels was taken from him from his wife.  While she objects to what he is doing, when it’s over and a little time has passed, Jeanne seemingly forgets it happened and her servility only increases which pleases Paul.
Now feeling like he has control over the situation, Paul begins proclaiming various demeaning things Jeanne must agree to do (such as have sex with a pig and then eat it’s vomit) to prove her love.  Instead of being repulsed, Jeanne quickly agrees to do anything he wants and his control over her is complete.  When Paul makes a final visit to the body of his dead wife just before burial, he curses her and wails about all of the injustices she wrought on him but he quickly apologizes for his diatribe and finally comes to terms with all that’s happened to him.  Determined to make a new start, he meets Jeanne and tells her his name and details about his life in the hope that this missing bit of honesty will allow them to real with each other.  What Paul doesn’t realize and doesn’t discover until it’s too late, is the fact that once all the mystery surrounding Paul is dispelled, he is just a sad old man who owns a flop-house to the much younger Jeanne.  That realization starts a chain of events that doesn’t end well since neither one of them is prepared for the unmasking of their real hidden personalities.
I can see how this movie was shocking to the audience back in 1972 and I’m sure it was groundbreaking in many ways, but for me I think this movie is considerably overrated.  This is purely self-indulgent film-making by Bertolucci who admitted that the idea for the film came from his own fantasies.  He said that, “he once dreamed of seeing a beautiful nameless woman on the street and having sex with her without ever knowing who she was.”  When Brando was asked what the movie was about, he bluntly replied that the movie represented,”Bernardo Bertolucci’s analysis.”  The movie has a flimsy plot and is highly melodramatic.  Despite protests over how erotic it was, I thought it was more sad than anything else.  The morose, languid pace of the movie saps the viewers spirits until they are dragged down the the emotional level of Paul.  Brando disavowed the movie after its completion and Schneider later said that she regretted making it, saying that the movie “ruined her life,” and that she considered the director Bertolucci a “gangster and a pimp.”  A sad coda for a sad film.

Video (3 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p transfer (1.85:1) is tough to quantify as a lot of the complaints I have about it are most likely due to stylistic decisions from the director and his longtime cinematographer Vitorrio Stararo.  The image is murky, poorly lit, and contains heavy film grain and noise throughout the picture.  A lot of that may be explained away because of the film-makers desire for natural lighting, but whatever the reason it impacts the quality.  Colors are mostly muted and swallowed up by the drab and dismal surroundings.  Black levels are suitably dark which is appropriate for this film while flesh tones are on the  cold side.  Brando’s face occasionally looks orange but overall the flesh tones look consistent.  Detail is mostly sharp especially during the scenes outside the apartment.

Audio (3 out of 5 stars) 

If you were expecting a new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix for this release, you are going to be disappointed as the studio opted to keep it simple with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track.  Actually, that’s not really a big deal since this whole movie is dialogue driven anyway, and that dialogue comes through loud and clear.  Speaking of loud, the score for this movie is at an insane level.  I cringed every time the score by Gato Barbieri intruded into the picture, as it is considerably louder than the rest of the movie and it’ s not even a good score which makes it even worse.

Special Features (1 out of 5 stars) 

It shouldn’t come as surprise to anyone that there aren’t any special features here other than a trailer.  With both Brando and Schneider unhappy with the film, there was no way they were going to participate in a retrospective years ago and now that they’ve both passed on, it will never happen.  There still could be a commentary track by Bertolucci and Storaro though and at the very least that could have been included.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts (2 out of 5 stars) 

While Brando’s performance is excellent as always, I suspect that it’s been placed on a pedestal due to the somewhat autobiographical nature of the role as Brando heavily improvised many of his lines with stories from his own life experiences.  I also suspect that this role was probably the closest to his own mercurial personality that we’ve seen, but with an actor like Brando, his talent may have fooled us all.  Schneider was also good in her role as she had to portray sensuality and innocence at the same time.  While I support movies like this breaking new ground with  adult themes and sexuality, I just wish it wasn’t as aimless and morose as this film.  This movie should have  paved the way for more risky adult oriented movies but that sadly didn’t happen.  In any case, both actors were brave to do this movie and deserve praise for doing something different and risky, but it’s just too bad that this was the end result.
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