Last Tango in Paris (1972) Retro Review

Long after the wildest closing night ever to wind up the New York Film Festival, Manhattan movie buffs were still openmouthed over Last Tango in Paris, and not just because of Marlon Brando’s nude romp with a pouly Gallic pigeon named Maria Schneider, cast as the girl he meets, makes and remakes on very brief acquaintance in an empty apartment to let. Italian writer-director Bernardo Bertolucci, hailed for The Conformist, arranged an early U. S. premiere of his controversial new work partly to forestall censorship at home in Italy, where the film’s graphic language and rampant sensuality might well meet resistance. Granting his first interview on the subject to playboy Contributing Editor Bruce Williamson, Bertolucci said, “I will not cut a single line or scene, and intend to preserve Clothed in mutual anonymity and nothing more, Jeonne (played by Maria Schneider) and Paul (Marlon Brando) begin warming up for their second rendezvous in a flat they have casually decided to cohabit. Outside, she has a boyfriend who wants to make a movie about her life, while he must face the agony of funeral preparations for a wife whose suicide he can’t comprehend. Here, they sit flesh to flesh, friendly strangers convinced that carnal knowledge of each other is all they need.
My work in its original form at any cost. The movie is an accelerated course in Wilhelm Reich. To make moral judgments is not interesting.” New York’s response to the virtually nonstop erotic orgy between a man and a woman who leave few four-letter words unspoken or what they stand for untried astonished Bertolucci as much as the film itself amazed his opening-night audience. Some Lincoln Center board members and their fuming wives reportedly stalked out. One major critic avowed that he hardly knew what to think. Others declared Last Tango “an outrage” or “overpowering…not for the squeamish,” or found its sexual decadence akin to The Story of O. Supermales and homosexuals were thought to like it least, though presumably for different reasons, while columnist Earl Wilson seemed to echo the consensus, fliply pegging it “the most erotic movie ever made. “Added Bertolucci, wryly: “The film is simply a reflection of my own Though the games they play include sodomy and rape, Brando bathes Maria in a tender scene, typically loced with flashes of mordant sexual bullying. Irritated by his stubborn silence about himself, the girl reminds her lover that he is pretty old. Brando snaps back, “In ten years, you’ll be playing soccer with those tits.”
Life…exploring the complexity of love between people.

“Why the tango? Bertolucci smiled, frowned. “There’s a phrase somewhere by Jorge Luis Borges; he calls the tango a way of walking through life. Of course, it’s an ironic symbol…for coupling. But both characters are aspects of myself. Maria is a little bourgeois, my adolescent self. Marlon represents the adult part of me, which i enjoy less. Somewhat didactic, he teaches Maria that the conventions are useless, we have to get rid of them. The girl needs a father, the man’s life has been destroyed, but there is no guilt or innocence in any relationship-you need two to tango. And why do people complain if Marlon says a word like pig-fucker? The man speaks this way, as many men do. Brando taught me the bad words, in English, and we improvised. There is nothing new in the language-except that audiences are not used to hearing it from the screen.”Bertolucci obviously has broken the sound barrier. Her naive romanticism fires his bestiality, though it is he who finally invites tragedy in the name of love. Asked to appraise Brando, Bertolucci says, “A man desperate to be loved, yet at times he has the serenity of a saint.” As for Maria: “Gifted in a way i have seldom seen…never false. She doesn’t know falsity.”

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