Last Tango in Paris (1972)
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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While looking at an apartment, Jeanne (Maria Schneider), a young woman engaged to a film maker, encounters Paul (Marlon Brando), an American living in Paris whose wife has just committed suicide. The two have sex in the apartment and, having agreed not to reveal their names or details of their lives to one another, decide to continue meeting there for sexual encounters. Inevitably, however, Jeanne's relationship with her fiancé and Paul's grief affect and complicate their affair.

Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris is a consistently enjoyable but undistinguished movie. Brando's performance is a real delight; Paris is beautifully filmed, and the whole of the narrative is infused with a delicious sadness. Unfortunately, the movie is never particularly distinctive. It is, in fact, a well made but very ordinary film.

The director does, nonetheless, effectively and subtly evoke Paul's sorrow. By presenting only tidbits of information about his past and no more than hints of his inner life, Bertolucci prevents the movie from degenerating into a mere history or psychological study of a fictional character. We are told all we need to know to feel Paul's terrible sadness. We see how his desperate misery overwhelms his passion, and how his frequently brutal, emotionally barren encounters with Jeanne are all informed by his grief. The emotions evoked by this skillful approach are potent and deeply affecting.

Fortunately, the quality of the movie and its ability to arouse such feelings are buoyed up by the skill of the actors. Brando's performance is surprisingly subtle and consistently enjoyable. I am not a great admirer of the actor's work, but he is entertaining in Last Tango in Paris. Although not as memorable as Brando, Schneider is also pleasant to watch. She brings an innocence and naïveté to her character which imbue her with a youthful charm. None of the other actors acquit themselves as well, but all are competent.

I should additionally note that, while the movie is not visually distinctive, it is generally attractive and effective in an ordinary way. Paris is beautiful, even when squalid, and the apartment in which Jeanne and Paul meet is a lovely but dilapidated place somehow participating in the city's charms but isolated from the world around it.

The film's greatest weakness is its conclusion, which is decidedly unsatisfactory. Although feelings of profound sorrow saturate the whole of the movie, and the impact of the conclusion is consistent with such feelings, the events depicted seem arbitrary and overdone. It is almost as if Bertolucci simply could not think of a better way to resolve the narrative.

Last Tango in Paris is an enjoyable diversion, but it is nothing more than that.

Review by Keith Allen

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