on June 21, 2004
It's been said, by a reviewer whose name escapes me at the moment, that this is the last film where Marlon Brando looked good. Truth is, it's also probably the last film where Brando demonstrated why he was considered one of America's best actors. It's most definitely a flawed film. The scenes where Brando does not appear are pretentious and fairly boring. I tend to agree with the assessment of Ingmar Bergman, who opined that the storyline of this film actually would have made more sense if the 2 main characters had been played as gay men. Perhaps. Maria Schneider is very sexy, but she's just not a really good actress. And yet, when Brando is on screen, he's absolutely dynamic, enthralling, electric. Never before, and probably never again, will you witness a performance so raw, so unadorned, so revealing. Forget the sexual scenes that earned the film its notoriety. Check out Brando's soliloquy beside his suicidal wife's coffin. Or his ironic blend of tenderness and misogyny in his scenes with Schneider. Or when he weeps for...what? the impossibility of his romance with Schneider? His lost, blighted past? Or his silent, agonized finale when he sees for the final time the magnificent skyline of Paris. It's easy to become jaded by the films of today, watching as modern Hollywood's so-called stars perfunctorily perform their bland roles by rote, gearing their performances to the lowest common denominator possible. Watching Brando in his blistering and towering performance here reminds one of why acting can be considered an awe-inspring art form and why it was that I used to love going to the movies.
on April 1, 2004
Brando's performance in this film is full of vim and vigour, always bordering on the comic, especially in the scene with his dead wife. Bertolucci had begun psychoanalysis just a couple of years before and his penchant to indulge Brando seems to be a direct result of this.
In retrospect much of the film's theme could be interpreted as misogynistic, there's certainly a lot of female fear aroused as a direct result of male aggression whether by Brando or Schneider's boyfriend. In fact 30 years down the line Maria Schneider has disowned this film, citing it as 'exploitative'. Nevertheless the film was considered quite bold for its time, even if what makes audiences uncomfortable about this film now is not quite the same as what made them uncomfortable 30 years ago. After feminism, Aids and the 60's backlash that was the '80's, 'Last Tango In Paris' looks shockingly naive in its view of sexual relationships. I think a lot of women today would find the Schneider character slightly embaressing in her vapid earnestness.
You have to give it to Brando though, he does get a digit probing by Maria Schneider, now thats true dedication to his craft! I can't imagine a Grade A Hollywood actor of today such as Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt or Tom Hanks engaging in such thespian devotion, too much of a 'masculine' image to maintain. Which just goes to show how little risk mainstream Hollywood actors are prepared to indulge in nowadays compared to just a generation ago.
When I saw this as a teen, it just seemed pretentious and stagy, using sex to justify a lot of blow-hard dialogue and images about the sadness of life, and the emptiness of art. Now, older than Brando was when he made the film, much of that still seems true, but almost doesn't matter compared to the brilliance and depth of Brando's performance as a man trying to put the pain of his wife's suicide behind him by having a nameless, sexually adventurous fling with a much younger woman. I've also come to feel that Bertolucci was – at times – making fun of his own style as a film-maker (Jean-Pierre Leaud as Maria Schneider's more age appropriate boyfriend plays a somewhat vacuous wanna be auteur trying to capture life on film). And that at least some of the eye-rollingly pretentious dialogue is supposed to be just that – it represents Brando trying to hide from the deeper more simple and painful truths of his empty existence behind sweeping proclamations of philosophy. Not everything works for me even now, but I certainly understand why people are still watching and discussing it 40 years later. (Not to mention Schneider doing by far her best work ever, and Vitorio Storaro's wonderful cinematography. ) Well worth seeing if you haven't.
on July 17, 2004
Marlon Brando's recent death effected me deeply. He has always been one of my favorite actors and I truly admire him for his extraordinary talent. During the last few weeks I have rented many of Brando's films and am still amazed, after all these years, at the force of his acting in "Last Tango In Paris." I believe that some of his best work was done in this film.
Paul, (Brando), an aging American expatriate in Paris, comes home to discover that his marriage has ended. His French wife, Rosa, had slit her veins, leaving bloody bath water and spattered walls behind. She didn't leave much else - no good-bye note or explanation for her husband, parents or lover, a guest in the fleabag hotel she owned and managed. She did bequeath the hotel, and it's seedy occupants, to Paul. Overwhelmed with grief, Paul walks the streets and finds himself looking at an apartment for rent. He finds Jeanne, (Maria Schneider), a girl-woman, barely out of her teens, looking at the same apartment. She is to be married in a few weeks to her bourgeois, filmmaker fiancee. Paul and Jeanne circle each other warily in the empty flat, each contemplating the rental, (and each other), and wondering who will take it. Suddenly, they grab each other and have hard, fast sex against the apartment wall. Thus begins a most bizarre relationship.
Paul makes the rules. Jeanne must follow them or she will not see him again. Their purely carnal relationship must remain anonymous, emotionless, and exist only within the walls of the apartment, which Paul rents for this purpose. There are to be no sexual taboos between them. He does not want to know her name or anything about her and refuses to give her any information about himself. They are not to see each other outside the apartment confines, nor even leave together. It seems as if Paul wants to bury his pain, his sense of betrayal and hurt in the mindless, sometimes brutal, act of sex. Director Bernardo Bertolucci's camera perfectly captures the impersonal nature of their coupling. The shots are blunt, without sensuality or eroticism, but an enormous sexual energy is captured. I think Jeanne is fascinated by the mystery that is Paul. She is bored, perhaps, and looking for something, maybe excitement. She is certainly intrigued by Paul's dominant role, and seems to enjoy playing the passive partner most of the time. She is clearly not happy with her boyfriend, who relates to her as the object of his latest film. He talks at her, not to her. And he does not listen. However, I do not see Jeanne as merely an object here, as do some others. The film focuses on Paul, not Jeanne.
It is unfortunate that Ms. Schneider's career fizzled after this movie. She is excellent as Jeanne and perfectly captures her character's capriciousness, playfulness, bewilderment, vulnerability, anger, frustration, seductiveness and curiosity. Brando is simply superb. There are times, when he and Jeanne are together, that it appears as if he is extemporizing. He acts as if there is no camera filming him - as if he is not acting at all. There is one scene, where he is alone with his wife's body - she is layed-out in a coffin. Brando begins to speak to her and just loses it. His remarkable outpouring of guilt and grief is probably the best acting I have ever seen.
Towards the end of the film there is a surreal ballroom scene where couples are dancing the tango. It is both haunting and memorable. The end is a bit of a letdown, but in a Brandoesque moment the actor comes to the rescue.
Bertolucci was very effected by the work of painter Frances Bacon, considered to be one of the best artists of the 20th century. He chose Brando after seeing a Bacon painting "of a man in great despair who had the air of total disillusionment." The "Last Tango In Paris," defined as "the most controversial film of an era," brought Bertolucci to international attention. It was nominated for two Academy Awards. Vittorio Storaro's cinematography adds to the cold, remote ambiance. His camera pans the colorless apartment and makes the viewing experience as impersonal as the couple's relationship.
This is obviously not a film for everyone. It has been called obscene, and worse. However, there are many, like myself, who think it is a great film. For fans of Marlon Brando, it doesn't get better than this. Bravo!
on April 23, 2004
Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972)
There are as many opinions as to Brando's greatest performance as there are Marlon Brando movies. Last Tango in Paris is my pick. Brando and the almost unforgivably beautiful Maria Schneider (also the first choice to play the lead in Bunuel's That Obscure Object of Desire) scorch the screen in this amazing film.
Oddly, for the first fifteen minutes, I thought I was going to hate it. Jeanne (Schneider) is looking for an apartment. Very, very slowly. She encounters Paul (Brando) in one of them, and the two begin a torrid affair for no real reason we can discern (she is engaged but lonely; his wife recently committed suicide). He ends up taking the apartment, and the two continue their affair over the following days before Paul's wife's funeral, while Jeanne's fiance shoots a documentary film about her.
Aside from the overly leisurely opening, Bertolucci mixes in the details of the two lives with their affair masterfully. The dynamics of their relationship, of course, change based on what's going on around them, and the whole thing meshes into an almost-perfect look at the dynamics of passion. The icing on the cake is Brando's monologue to his dead wife close to the end of the film; this is the scene that tabbed Brando for an Oscar nomination and won him a number of more minor awards for the film; it should also be noted that this remains the final X-Rated film to receive Oscar nominations, and was the only film rated NC-17 to have received them until Requiem for a Dream. People just don't make X-rated films like they used to!
Frank, tempestuous, utterly brilliant. See it. **** ½
on April 3, 2004
I remember watching this movie when I was a teenager. I think I got about 3 minutes into it before I "lost interest" and went to sleep. So I felt it was only fair to go back and watch the whole thing after seeing "The Dreamers", and feeling that now I'm old enough to appreciate it. LTIP, beyond the butter and the anonymous sex, truly is a messed up movie. Brando's dialogue is terribly stilted and cheesy, but the performance he turns in at his dead wife's bedside is shocking and moving beyond belief. The movie is as much a condemnation of the promiscuous society as it is a celebration, and the final ten minutes are harrowing and heart-breaking. The movie suffers from 70's pacing though, where too much of the "action" is saved for the denouement, and all the meticulously crafted scenes before that suffer for the sake of a brutal finale. I also found the finale a tad unnecessarily moralistic - bad things happen to bad people...
But Paris is beautiful, the movie is at once both intelligent and though provoking and nowadays seems less pornographic or provocative that an Britney Spears concert, although far, far more worthy of your time.
on March 25, 2004
Jeanne (Schneider) is a 20-year old Parisian girl from an affluent family engaged to Jean-Pierre Leaud's ebullient film-maker Tom. Paul (Brando) is a middle-aged American from a far less affluent rural family who has settled in a seedy Paris hotel (as he himself puts it a 'flop-house') after marrying the owner. Now his wife has killed herself with a razor in their bath and he is left to entertain her distraught and piously Catholic mother whom he despises. Meanwhile Jeanne and Paul are both looking around at flats to rent. They meet by chance in one they are viewing and, with almost nothing in the way of preliminaries, they have sex. Next thing, Paul has rented the flat and they are meeting there regularly for anonymous, noncommittal no-strings love-making. That at least is the idea...
This is one of the most famous movies of the 1970s and, in its day, the sex scenes were considered extremely shocking. Twenty-two years later its power to shock has considerably abated and it's interesting to see how well it has stood the test of time. Not very well in my judgment. The problem isn't the sex, though which does now seem rather anodyne (though it remains the sort of film you probably don't want to take your granny to see). The problem is really Paul. I think we're meant to think he is really cool. In his youth apparently he was a boxer, a bongo player, a revolutionary in South America etc, the sort of romantic drifter's resume people who read a lot of Hemmingway are much impressed by. He seems intended to come over as a rather grandly tragic existentialist hero, despising of convention, full of rage and deep things to say about sex, death, authenticity, etc. Back in 1972, with a youthful audience, all this might have worked. Watching the movie today it does not. Paul now comes over unmistakably as an unattractively self-pitying, rather pathetic character. His contempt for pretty much everything and everyone he encounters now just comes over as arrogance, his rage as inexcusable cruelty, the deep things he has to say as kind of silly, self-indulgent and rather boring, the relationship with Jeanne a huge ego-trip.
I don't think it's really a success, then, and I don't really think I'd want to buy it. But it's certainly worth seeing if you never have. Directed by Bertolucci, shot by Storaro, it's a sumptuous visual feast for the eyes. There's a gloriously sensual score by Argentinian jazz musician Gato Barbieri. Also some excellent acting including one of the last really interesting performances by Brando before he lost the plot completely. And the unforgettable final scenes depicting Paul and Jeanne's final encounter have a brilliance that transcends the film's significant weaknesses. Indeed for these final fifteen minutes or so at least, it remains a classic.
on November 29, 2003
To begin with, Last Tango in Paris is a landmark in film history, it's Bertolucci's most psychological film, and a breakthrough conventional censorship, banned for almost ten years, Last Tango is brooding and sensual, raw and miserable, Maria Schneider appears here so voluptuous and everlasting, can't blame Brando's character (Paul), to become mad, she is both a child and a woman, a combination no one can resist (your sex doesn't matter), the ultimate object of sexual Catharsis, becoming wrath. This is a chamber piece, a conceptual story in the minds of its two protagonist, enters Marlon Brando; Paul's construction couldn't be more close to Brando's psychological truth, it is his most alike character, and Brando just exudes all of his unlimited potential, skills, and mastery of the acting art, delivering one of the most perfect performances in all movie history, a must for every student of acting and for any aspiring director in much concern of his or hers actor's performance. Complex, incomprehensible, silent in sorrow and in much pain, but completely lost in a duel because of his dead wife, this is Paul, egoist, manipulative, the world moves because of him, even at his lowest hour of pathetic self indulgent anal ways, Paul is everything inside the Apartment, and nothing outside of it. Enters Maria Schneider; Jeanne a French beauty (just in her early twenties), cast in a child like role with the sweetness and seduction of a Lolita, only this time is both voluptuous and dependent of a real man's love, Schneider is just unforgettable in this seductive character, and her performance is first class, a woman of its time: unbreakable, untouchable, daggling in distress, from there to discipline, all the complicated self-destructive bound, because she's nothing, an object of animation, a subjective mannequin, beaten into submission, raping again and again.
The apartment is the metaphor to their relation, un-scout even approaching the movie's end, it stands in much need of human candor, but the human condition won't let this happen, and Paul and his beauty will be forced to crash against one another, it's pure ruin and misery, and Bertolucci cages this and much more that doesn't meets the eye, with that masterful direction that only exist in the very best. Alas, it resembles the relation of a father with his daughter, with that daddy's care for her, and her Oedipus lust that can't be ignore, but doomed to die, shackled Paul's princess, Jeanne is here to carry with the burden of a long gone will to just be in comfort when the moment of excitement, that's why they don't need names inside the apartment; Frantic or Therapeutic?
The photography is achieved with smooth and cold colors that only the erotic European films possessed in the 70's and 80's, Vittorio Sttoraro gives and unforgettable atmosphere to the story, he knew it by heard, and so Bertolucci, you will always remember the Tango Dance Contest Mad Scene, it is the very essential way of photography, direction, and real acting, all in one, based in a perfect and sensible raw script. The beautiful and haunting music score, adds more atmosphere and strength to the already powerful images.
The DVD edition comes with an excellent transferring of the film, surely it looks as good as the day it was released, but the lack of additional material makes you want to know more about this mythical movie (the edition comes with a very illustrative eight page booklet, with inside information about the film's history, but a full length documentary would have give a much entertaining and depth view of the film), again the transferring is a fine work of good visuals and sounds, and the best of all, it is the uncut and uncensored version, as Bertolucci originally intended to be shown in Theaters back in the middle 70's, when everything was still uptight for such a film, there was no problem at all with the nude scenes, the problem was about the moral violence that the picture depicted in a way that no one had dare before to showed in the big screen, from there it came its heavily censorship, the psychological alternation of the most devastating loneliness and the filth and stink of the Human Insight Tremors, shown here with the intention to shock, not to move. Controversial still.
on July 26, 2002
I'm giving this film five stars but I know I couldn't recommend it to everyone I know (especially from the reactions of friends I did encourage to see it!). I found it erotic, unique, personal, and powerful when I saw it in college: two desperate souls trying to appease their inner torment with sexuality and failing miserably.
What's really stuck with me is Marlon Brando's performance. I thought to myself back then, "That didn't look like acting." I read his bio and found out that he WASN'T acting. What you're seeing is an emotional breakdown on film: his weeping is just too raw and severe; he broke his hand when he punched a door during the mother-in-law scene (an action not in the script); the farm tales he tells were from his own childhood; and, perhaps most devastating of all, he rages at his dead wife's body in the film--but he's really dredging up his real-life anger for his alcoholic mother.
Afterward, he was quoted as saying, "I'll never act like that again." And then went on to do THE GODFATHER.
(Another weird detail: Maria Schneider, the young French girl in the film, is the daughter of a former roommate of Brando's.)
It may feel "foreign" in places to an American audience, but this film's scenes of desire, desperation and despair are universal.
on July 17, 2002
Brando is a middle-aged American whose wife has committed suicide; Schneider is a young European beauty seeking a sense of personal identity. The two meet by chance in an empty apartment--and immediately embark upon an anonymous affair in which Brando seeks to both purge and renew himself through Schneider.
Both stars offer intense performances, and director Bertolucci invests the film with numerous poetic and symbolic flourishes. The cinematography is elegant; the score is quite interesting. But when everything is said and done, LAST TANGO IN PARIS is extremely thin stuff that relies on sexual shock to generate tension--and what was once shocking is now passe. At the time TANGO was made, it was unthinkable that a major Hollywood star would appear in such a film... Yet by today's standards, the nudity involved is quite mild, the sex scenes are surprisingly discreet, and the script is oddly niave. It all seems very tame.
Moreover, the film's subplots slow the action to a crawl and the film as a whole has a self-concious, faintly pretentious tone. Brando and Schneider, both separately and together, offer quite a few impressive moments, but you have to wade through a lot to get to them. Is it worth it? Difficult to say. Although I don't regret having watched the film, I flatly state that I would not bother to watch it again. My recommendation: rent it before you buy it, because one viewing may be quite enough.