Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Screenplay written by Bernardo Bertolucci & Franco Arcalli
Starring Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Maria Michi, Gitt Magrini & Luce Marquand
UK release date: 27th January 1973
Two tortured souls – a 45-year old American businessman (Brando) and a 20-year old Parisian beauty (Maria Schneider), come together to satisfy their sexual cravings in an apartment that is as bare as their dark, tragic lives. Unable to stop seeing each other, these unlikely lovers take their passion to erotic new heights – and depths – beyond anything they could ever have imagined.
Ah yes, herein lies one of those movies that I have heard about occasionally, namely due to the controversy that surrounds it, but only just getting around to seeing it just as it starts to collect dust after being left abandoned on my shelf for quite some time. I guess the only really acceptable and most valid reason I haven’t sat down to view it until recently was mainly because of the largely mixed reception its heavily received. Some have held it in high praise, while others have made it out to be so boring, you’d be better off just watching paint dry. Curiosity ultimately won me over though, particularly with the film being responsible for having one of the most talked about scenes involving an interesting way of using butter. Numerous people had already previously warned me that I’ll never look at butter/margarine in quite the same way ever again. Even I have to admit, those people were right.
Choosing to ignore all those that disliked the film by going into it with a completely open mind, (as it always should be, right?) to my utter surprise, I actually really liked this movie. With the prior knowledge of knowing this was a piece of art house cinema, I suspected that this may be the one true factor that would put me off watching this through to the end. Truth be told, I’ve not seen that many films of this ilk and I understand they can be a real eclectic taste at times, reserved only for the most die hard of art house film lovers, so it was a delight to discover that as far as powerful art house cinema goes, this is one of the most finest examples in the genre that I’ve seen so far. The music plays an important part; really setting the overall mood and atmosphere of the film, especially during its more off-beat melodramatic moments, as the story takes you into some rather dark places at times.
The story itself being fairly straight forward; focusing on Brando’s character Paul having more or less given up on life after struggling to come to terms with the recent suicidal death of his wife. Why his wife committed suicide in the first place has been largely kept a mystery, but as the film unfolds, you soon discover that he isn’t too good at relating with other people, lashing out violently through sudden bursts of anger, unveiling him to be not the greatest of husbands that any woman would be happily married to. Its when he prowls around in a block of apartments, that he meets Jeanne; a young Parisian woman engaged to a somewhat controlling film director making a documentary of her life. As soon as these two lost souls meet, there is an instant sexual attraction that they become strangely overwhelmed by and indulge themselves in a deeply clandestine and intimate love affair, played by Paul’s strict rules that under no circumstance should they know each other’s names, find out about their lives or where either of them have come from. Its like his late wife’s ‘selfish’ death did so much psychological damage on him, that he no longer wants to be part of living society and would love nothing more than to disconnect himself from the rest of world as far as humanly possible. If anyone else played this role other than Brando, there’s no doubt in my mind the film wouldn’t be half as good and would be incapable of holding my attention as well as it had. Brando elevates this film with his Academy Award nominated performance to something of a really unique movie experience.
I don’t think I necessarily ‘enjoyed’ this movie as it’s not really that kind of movie viewing experience but it’s most certainly one I was undeniably fascinated by and found myself truly invested in. It was the two central characters that made me love ‘Last Tango in Paris’ more than I ever thought I would, not knowing what would be the final outcome of their sordid affair. It reminded me of the film ‘Secretary’ revolving around a secretary and her boss engaging in a full on BDSM relationship without really knowing a thing about each other, keeping their personal lives secretive and anonymous from one another. It’s these kind of psycho-sexual dramas that deeply explore sexual re-awakenings and the strong urge to feel and want to be sexually desired all over again that I have really come to admire and appreciate over time. Give me these kind of films over any other normal romantic love films or chick flicks any day of the week.
The only real aspect that bought this film down a bit, much to my disappointment, was having being made over 40 years ago now, it has lost some of it’s initial power to shock. Of course there are lines of dialogue we hear from the character of Paul that can still be seen as quite disturbing, but it still unfortunately doesn’t change the fact in this day and age its getting more and more harder to shock viewers. It probably most certainly was more of a shock to the system way back on it’s first release in 1972 but times have now changed considerably a lot since then.
If you’re a fan of Marlon Brando back when he was in his absolute prime during the 70s then you must absolutely own this film. His performance alone will knock your socks off. A haunting, mesmerising film that took me by complete surprise and one that I will surely find myself returning back to again soon.