Last Tango in Paris (1972) (NC-17)
One of the more controversial titles held within Marlon Brando and Bernardo Bertolucci's respective oeuvres, "Last Tango in Paris" is remembered for its semi-explicit love scenes, though it shouldn't be. Branded with the hated "NC-17" rating is probably unjustified for this film, because, though it makes no qualms with nudity, sex is portrayed as a very frightening act and rarely erotic.
The movie begins under a bridge in Paris. A train runs above and a man that the camera has quickly zoomed in on, holds his head in his hands and screams out to the heavens. Our minds go back to scenes in "Cabaret" where Liza Minnelli runs underneath a train and lets out joyous shouts. This is not the same, this has grief in it. Such tremendous heartache that we shudder at the sound.
A woman walks by.
The man and the woman, who could very well go nameless for the movie, cross paths again, unbeknownst to all but the audience when they bump into each other in a telephone booth some few minutes later.
The woman, Jeanne (Maria Schneider) is looking for an apartment. She thinks she's found the place and takes a closer look. Besides an annoying woman who runs the concierge, the place looks pretty great. She takes the key and heads upstairs to the apartment.
When she gets there, she's surprised by a man sitting in the corner. This is the man that screamed under the train, he seems distant. They both acknowledge each other and look around the flat.
Right before they're both about to leave, the man grabs the woman, forces her up against the wall and the pair has sex.
It really is just that random.
After this odd scene, they walk out the front door together and Jeanne runs off to the train station where her boyfriend is waiting for her. The two embrace and kiss, only to be ogled by a camera, not the one the story is being told through. Jeanne's boyfriend has gotten the notion that it would be a good idea to make a television show about their life. He wants every aspect of their life to be on the camera...except for the bedroom, that would be improper.
Perhaps this is what "Last Tango in Paris" is about—the emotional exploitative advances of a man against a woman and the animalistic orgasmic undoings of that exploitation between a man and a woman...or vice versa.
Either way, the film has a sexually violent buzz to it, directed right at Jeanne who suffers the most in the film, physically and mentally.
Distorting time and space, Bertolucci makes us unsure of the man's backstory. We are uncertain what makes him so violent, so controlling, and so sexually perverse. He spills his life's story to Jeanne, but demands that she not do the same.
They both return to the apartment time and time again, hatching a love nest as the lovers do in "In the Realm of the Senses" a film that definitely merits its "NC-17" rating. This is a place designed just for pleasure and release. The man, later named as Paul, demands that no names be given, no ages be given. This apartment is just for those who need something.
As the story progresses and both of them need the apartment less, stranger things start to happen to compensate, to force the release.
The apartment is an area of sanctuary for them. The sorrow is discarded here, the worries are left at the door.
Not exactly trashy, but not a wholesome movie to say the least, the hardest part of engaging with the film is the style with which its shot. Bertolucci tricks you into thinking there are time jumps, motives, and romance sequences...there aren't.
The film is almost platonic in the story it brings, and certainly referencing Ôshima makes sense, since the stories have equally morbid end results.
"Last Tango in Paris" does feature two very strong lead performances, Schneider's getting forgotten by the brilliance of Marlon Brando. Both stars later stated how much they disliked making the movie and how uncomfortable they were shooting some of the scenes. Schneider is treated worse—it's understandable for her.
The oddity of the movie, the way it skips from one scene to the next, the emotions that flood in and disperse just as fast makes it all feel...I don't know, somewhat beyond itself.
Posted by Micah Jones