I don’t know what I was expecting with this, but this was not what I was expecting. Bernardo Bertolucci is so much of a hit-or-miss director for me that when it came time for arguably his most infamous and controversial film, Last Tango in Paris, I felt like no amount of research or preparation would get me ready for whatever the film would be like. I knew it starred Marlon Brando, and I knew it was focused primarily about sex, but aside from the uncomfortable picture of a near-50 Marlon Brando having sex, I didn’t know what I was going to be getting with this one. I was unsure if this would be a hit or a miss with me. Well, the redundancy of the statement aside, I know now; whatever this was trying to accomplish, it sure as hell didn’t work.
Brando, along with the female lead Maria Schneider, are a man and a woman who meet while checking out the same apartment in Paris. Pretty much as soon as they meet, despite the age difference, they are at each other, and the man sets some ground rules: they are free to meet at the apartment for their trysts, as long as neither of them tells the other their name or anything about their pasts; it will be as anonymous as possible. As it turns out, the man, whose name is Paul, had a wife that killed herself the same day that he and the girl first met, and the girl, Jeanne, is a fiancée to a wannabe film director, as well as the lead in his new project. Unfortunately, their outside lives continue to encroach on the safety space that is their apartment, and threaten to derail their idyllic sex-based relationship. Right off the bat, I will say this; the sex parts weren’t as uncomfortable as I was expecting, mostly because they were a lot more… nothing, than I was expecting. There was no sensuality whatsoever; for instance, when they first meet in the apartment, they wander around, asking each other questions about the apartment, before Brando abruptly walks her over to the window, and they kiss, and get right into it, and there is nothing lovey-dovey about it, or even remotely attractive. The one scene that did garner even some bit of a reaction from me was the infamous butter scene, and even then it was merely a want for the scene to be over with already. All the rest of the film, outside these scenes, seemed entirely superfluous, as the sex scenes were all that the film really wanted to do, and so the rest of the film seemed like it was only half-assed. The cinematography was nice, as expected from the same cinematographer that worked with Bertolucci on The Conformist, but other than that, everything about this one was just a wrong decision. Brando famously refused to memorize his lines, and unfortunately, his acting in this thus comes across as stilted, wavering in the extremes of whatever actions or emotions he needs to enact while he looks around the room for his next cue card hidden out of frame. As an actor myself, as well as a one-time casting director in film school, I can attest to the poor choice by an actor to merely shout and act as angry as possible when one needs to “emote” a scene, that we see from so many amateur actors who don’t know their craft, and it seems they all are getting it from Brando in this film. In addition, Jean-Pierre Leaud is woefully underutilized in a role that shouldn’t even have been his to begin with; it’s too much of a background role for Leaud.
The infamy of this one threatened to sour my opinion of it before I’d even started it, but now that it’s over, I can’t help but have a feeling of “meh”. This didn’t do almost anything right, from the intrusive and out-of-place music to the script which called for no development of the characters at all; this was just a bad decision after bad decision kind of film. I’ll give an extra point for the cinematography, but really, I’m doing the film a favor just by giving it that; the only thing that this had going for it was its infamy, and in the end, the infamous segments didn’t end up being enough to warrant the infamy, so there was just nothing to this. I guess I’ll have to stick with the Bertolucci films I know are good, and leave the rest by the wayside. This will undoubtedly be one of those left behind.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10