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 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.
on December 24, 2001
Paris is dirty, or at least the parts of it visited by Bertolucci's camera. The beginning of the film follows the separate paths of the two main actors(Brando, Schneider) through the streets of Paris. We've yet to meet them or learn anything about them but we can't wait til they finally do cross paths in an old run down apartment where most of the movie will take place. The cinematic style is unmistakably European and at a time when European cinema was at its very highest point. For a short time in the late sixties and early seventies film was considered on almost equal footing with literature. In fact the cinema seemed to be the perfect medium to transmit what the novel had become...experimental, non-linear, post-structural. If culture was entering into a post-verbal phase cinema seemed the obvious medium for high culture to express itself in. Antonioni's Blow-Up(based on the Cortazar story) and Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris are the most convincing examples of cinema having achieved this equal footing with literature. It didn't last long but for a few years foreign cinema produced one masterpiece after another. European cinema was at its height in 1972 and so was Marlon Brando. Bertolucci was a new director and Brando already a star but it never seems either is interfering with the others talents. They encourage and compliment each other perfectly. Brando is allowed to improvise all he wants it appears but Bertolucci is free to turn the sound down or up, or move the camera closer or further away to get just the effect he wants. They both come out looking great. It is as powerful an acting performance as exists anywhere(no other movie feels as real as this one), and it is a very pleasingly constructed piece of modern cinema. Two virtuosos practicing their craft.
The story is a depressing one but its the moments when Brando departs from the script that one feels the freedom that a live performance when everything is really clicking and happening can give one. And its the perfect script for allowing such moments of departures because the character in the story needs desperately to feel free or liberated again from the confines of what life/culture has become. In their rented room Brando and Scheider explore a reality of their own making. Their room becomes a playground where no stultifying bourgeois rules exist. Ultimately the game does not shut out real life and that is the tragedy of the Brando character. As real life creeps in to their play world the game winds down and appropriately the final scenes show the characters not in their room but in public, once again in the streets where the film began. The younger Schneider just sought a momentary diversion in the affair whereas the older Brando relied on it for his very sustenance and once the game ends there is nothing else for him. Without a playmate to keep him playful he is simply desperate. Everything about this film is perfect, including the music. A long film at 128 minutes but one that impresses you again every time you see it. No other movie has the power this one has. Brando's most interesting character, and Bertolucci's most interesting/accomplished piece of film.
on December 13, 2000
Before watching this movie I heard nothing but great things about this film. I heard people say it Bernardo Bertolucci's best film. I heard people say it's Marlon Brando's best performance ever! And I've even heard people say, it stands as one of the greatest films ever! I'm mixed between this movie. On one hand I can say, it's an intriguing piece of work, with wonderful directing by one of my favorite directors, Bertoluuci. It has great photography by Vittorio Storaro, and has memorable acting with memorable lines. On the other hand, I can see why one wouldn't like this film. It's not a family movie. It's not a "feel good" film either. It does seem to drag a bit. And the score by Gato Barbieri seems misplaced. But, trying to judge the movie fairly, I would have to say that people should try and make an effort to see this movie. It does offer many enjoyable moments. And it has also stood the test of time by staying with us after all these years. The screenplay by Arcalli and Bertolucci does get slow at times and can be boring at moments, but believe it or not, it does contain heart. It's about a man who has just lost his wife, and to me, seems as if, without her, life has lost it's meaning. Despite the fact she was cheating on him. So he meets Jeanne (Maria Schneider) and begin an unforgettable affair with a stick of butter and dead rats lol. The scene where Brando is paying his respect to his wife is considered a standout, and one can see why. But to say this is Brando's best film, I have to disagree. I personally like "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "The Godfather". But I think Bertolucci fans will be pleased with this movie as will many others. If your a bit skeptical about seeing this movie, I'll offer you a warning. Don't watch this movie and expect a fast paced, heartfelt, or romantic movie. And don't watch it when your in a "good" mood. The movie will just bring you down with it's "depressing" storyline. Still though, it remains, I feel, as one of Bertolucci's best directing efforts.
on August 23, 2000
A very complex movie to understand, you'll have to watch it several times to appreciate the finer points. First off, the Parisian background throughout the movie is spectacular. We are treated to one of the greatest cities in the world during the early 70's. This film stirred up alot of controversy because of the sexual content, but as usual the prudish always object the most strongly. Brando's performance is fantastic. He captures your interest and concentration the whole movie. The raw emotions portrayed run the complete spectrum too, to which he performed extremely well. One of the movies annoying aspects is Maria's boyfriend/fiance who is running around filming the most silly things constantly with religious fervor. Maria Schneider exhibited the youthful freshness, energy, and sexuality to portray her character well. This is not a movie for everyone. It requires an open mind and a deep thinking approach to appreciate it.
on November 5, 2000
This film is worth seeing for Brando's performance alone, even if you're not a Brando fan (which I'm not, as a rule). He is absolutely riveting in every scene, and makes the most difficult and uncomfortable scenes look so realistic through his artistry and mastery of the art of acting. There's a scene towards the film's end--I won't give it away--that's basically a monologue done with such power and intensity it's downright frightening in its realism. (A similar scene is done by Tom Cruise in "Magnolia" and I can't help but think that Cruise studied Brando's art to create an equally powerful (and painful) performance).Ironically, Brando's role seems a deceptively simple one, and one that could easily have been botched by a lesser actor, but he injects such force into the performance you'll never forget it. See the film, by all means, for an incredibly cathartic experience.
on April 3, 2004
I remember seeing this movie for the first time about a billion yrs ago and thinking, 'So THIS is what being a superb actor is all about.' Brando, playing an expat in Paris who is in despair over his wife's very recent suicide, never once seems to be acting, never seems aware of camera or audience, never seems to consider how others will view him or his role or this movie. Unbelievable.
The film was shocking when it was first made in 1973, especially for the graphic and (at that time) 'unusual' sexual scenes - and it still makes viewers squirm a bit, but his odd and almost voiceless relationship with Maria Schneider is not self-serving on either end. It's dispassionate and anonymous sex, meant as a Band-Aid on a wound too painful to be dealt with in any other way.
Super, super, super.