The Conformist (1970) (R)

If you ever wanted to know what style really looked like in a film, "The Conformist" is the movie to watch. It is so dedicated to its visual appeal and its fashion that many times the story falls second to the splendor that the eye can take in. The camera whirls and pushes, the sets dazzle, and often times the costumes match the lighting. The result of the combination of all these things is a ravishing feast for the eyes, an exquisite banquet. Unfortunately this means that the plot, which is supposed to be the one thing uniting the style, is a secondary aspect of the film.
Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is possibly the worst spy. He's a coward, weak-willed, and not firmly committed to Fascism. tsk tsk. "The Conformist" doesn't work in a linear method, often making loops and dream sequences part of the norm. To recount the linear plot wouldn't be fruitful because half the fun is understanding just what the hell is going on.
As Marcello comes closer and closer to his end goal: the assassination of a anti-Fascist sympathizer, he becomes intertwined with a few femme fatales. The first is his wife, an quasi-innocent, sex-driven girl named Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli). Their relationship is based in the secrets that they keep from each other. It's a sexy, almost derisive relationship that we can't really seem to understand.
The second woman is the wife of the target, Anna (Dominique Sandra), a smoldering blonde that reminds Marcello of a prostitute that he embraced but did not have sex with....yeah, things get a little weird here.
Torn between two sexy women, though preferences shifting drastically towards Anna, Marcello has the government to think about also. Perhaps it's Bertolucci's small way of poking fun at the idea of nationalistic pride, but when you consider that Marcello is more concerned about getting with someone instead of the fate of his country, the idea of patriotism is up for commentary.
"The Conformist" is steeped in lies, mostly about the closet. There is a deep underlying thread of homoerotica that manages to reflect a Fascistic mirror. In here, being gay is almost like being a Fascist; but don't worry, it doesn't come across as insulting as that.
As Marcelloa, Jean-Louis Trintignant isn't given enough time to show his acting abilities and his co-stars are rarely anything less than charming. The acting is easy in the film, an easy success that is, because it requires little to nothing more than a flip of the wrist and an upturned nose with a glass of champagne and a evening gown.
There is nothing more riveting than Sandrelli and Sandra in glorious dresses dancing with each other in front of an ogling crowd or the sight of Sandrelli in a striped gown seducing her fiance. It's the style, but I've said that before.
When you consider Bertolucci's other work like "Last Tango in Paris" which was just Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider having sex in a room for the entire movie or "The Last Emperor" which tried to condense thirty plus years into three hours, "The Conformist" sees Bertolucci at the height of his powers, biting off just the right amount to control.
"The Conformist" sometimes feels like "The Conversation", simply because of the predator/prey way in which it is shot; but by the end of the film, Bertolucci has abandoned all rational ideas of creating an espionage thriller and is primarily focused on the introspective horrors of Marcello's sexuality...or Fascism..or both.
Who knows? Either way, it's just so darn pretty to look at that the plot not holding up really doesn't matter.

Score: ★★★½

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