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Weekly Films - Last Tango in Paris (1972)- Bernardo Bertolucci

Marlon Brando and Bernardo Bertolucci were nominated for Best Director of a Motion-Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role.


Jeanne: You know, he and l, we make love.
Paul: Oh, really? That’s wonderful. Is he a good fucker?
Jeanne: Magnificent.
Paul: You know, you’re a jerk. Cos’ the best fucking you’re gonna get is right here in this apartment. Stand up.
Jeanne: He is full of mysteries.
Paul: Listen, you dumb dodo. All the mysteries that you’re ever gonna know in life are right here.
Jeanne: He is like everybody but… at the same time he’s different.
Paul: You mean, like everybody.
Jeanne: Yeah, but… even he fright (sic) me. Even he frightens me.
Paul: What is he, your local pimp?
Jeanne: He could be. He looks it. You know why I’m in love with him?
Paul: I can’t wait.
Jeanne: Because he know. He know how to make me fall in love with him.
Paul: You want this man you love to protect and take care of you.
Jeanne: Yeah.
Paul: You want this golden, shining, powerful warrior to build a fortress where you can hide in. So you don’t have to ever… have… You don’t ever have to be afraid. You don’t have to feel lonely or empty. That’s what you want, isn’t it?
Jeanne: Yes.
Paul: Well, you’ll never find it.
Jeanne: But I find this man.
Paul: Then it won’t be long until he’ll want you to build a fortress for him out of your tits and your cunt and your hair and your smile and the way you smell. And… and some place where he can feel comfortable and secure enough so that he can worship in front of the altar of his own prick.
Jeanne: But I find this man!
Paul: No, you’re alone. You’re all alone. You won’t be free of that feeling of being alone until you look death right in the face. I mean, that sounds like bullshit, some romantic crap, until you go right up into the ass of death. Right up in his ass… till you find the womb of fear. And then,… maybe… Maybe then, you’ll be able to find him.
— Last Tango in Paris


Controversial, explicit, disgusting; Bertolucci’s 1972 romantic drama, ‘Last Tango in Paris’ caused a massive stir upon its release and those were some of the labels used to describe the motion-picture by public and critics alike.  Banned in Spain and Italy- where Bertolucci would later be tried and convicted on charges of ‘obscenity’-, and the first mainstream film in the United Kingdom to be awarded the now infamous ‘X’ rating, ‘Last Tango in Paris’ was as successful as it was shocking. Movie-goers were curious. Although reviews spoke of ‘pornography disguised as art’ the urge to see the face of the ‘beast’ with their own eyes was beyond most humans’ self-control; compare it to when there is a road-side accident. As the motor-vehicle slowly creeps by the location of the crash, many of us look, consciously aware it might not be a pretty sight. Curiosity prevails. In some cases, people were curiously disgusted by Bertolucci’s magnum opus, like much of the American middle-class. ‘’The Village Voice reported walkouts by board members and "vomiting by well-dressed wives." Others, notably the French general public, were curiously pleased.  ‘’In France, moviegoers stood in two-hour lines for the first month of its run at the seven theatres where Tango played spurred by unanimous positive reviews in every major French publication. In order to circumvent state censorship, thousands of Spaniards travelled hundreds of miles to reach French theatres in Biarritz and Perpignan where Tango was playing.’’. If anything, ‘Last Tango in Paris’ was a divisive film.

For me, 2011 was a year to forget. Tides rarely went my way- when they did I usually screwed up- so I often found myself wondering how everything had gone so wrong over the last 12 months. This isn’t a column about me, Francois Le Grand, it’s a column about what films can mean, the role they can play in giving an education and the sheer power overlooked masterpieces can have in changing attitudes. Everyone experiences extended moments of distress where days are no longer opportunities to grow but long, unending spaces of time; entire weeks are thrown away and consumed by sighs and the shrugging of shoulders. So although I write from a personal perspective, it’s about a wider issue; a lack of motivation, depression, whatever you want to call it. It’s the story of how I came to love films and what each one of them has taught me.

The goal of this column, which will be updated every one or two weeks, is to recommend films of great power and significance, regardless of the decade, the style, how many stars are present or how controversial it is. Non-Hollywood films will be given a slight preference, as the aim is to explore the creative, the innovative and the unknown.

F.R. Le Grand

All gasps, applause and past reviews aside, ‘Last Tango in Paris’ is an erotic masterpiece. Bertolucci directs a film in which Brando (‘Paul’), playing a forty-something American expatriate, becomes an ambulant portrait of an afflicted spirit going through an existential crisis. Paul, owner of a rackety hotel, attempts to repress the pain of loss by spending days with ‘Jeanne’, played by the brilliant Maria Schneider, a beautiful young Parisian woman who is going through a crisis of her own. After a brief but passionate encounter, ‘Paul’ and ‘Jeanne’ agree that their relationship must be anonymous (no names, no details, no personal information) as ‘Jeanne’ is to be engaged and ‘Paul’ has no interest in explaining his tragic history. They agree to regularly meet at the hotel where they talk of love, sex and engage in surreal conversations. As the relationship progresses the climax is slowly reached with the dialogue providing hints of escalating tension between ‘Paul’s’ visible emotional instability and ‘Jeanne’s’ growing doubt of her relationship with a stranger who is at times passionate but at other times, an animal and a sociopath. Jeanne does not seem to know whom to choose; her nice, respectable husband to be or the seemingly wise, intense, lust-filled ‘Paul’? It’s a picture on deciding between emotion and logic.

‘Last Tango in Paris’ is a film in which Marlon Brando expertly depicts the image of a broken man lost within himself, depressed and who can no longer act rationally. Maria Schneider delivers a ground-breaking performance as the submissive ‘Jeanne’, an innocent girl searching for the answers of life, faced with two options; one safe and rational, the other, wild and emotional. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the film is the absurd, unromantic, in-the-gutter speeches which ‘Paul’ proclaims as if in a trance, and the raw imagery evoked in the dialogue between him and ‘Jeanne’. This is an unconventional film which ignored all the rules of making a publicly-acclaimed work, making its own recipe for success instead of following the demands of a Hollywood style flavour. Especially because of this, it captivates the viewer, not only because of the awe-inspiring performances of Brando and Schneider, but because of the ‘balls’ required to make such a film in the 70’s. Is this film pornography disguised as art? No. It’s an intimate close-up of a decadent relationship between two human beings searching within each other for something they once had.


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