Marcello (the great Jean-Louis Trintignant) has a common yearning in his life, though he puts it much more bluntly than others would. Marcello wants to be normal. Normal as in Fascist, normal as in wife, children and government job, and, finally, normal in that he represses and attempts to forget all his dark dreams and past deeds. The charge from his hushed organization is to assassinate his old philosophy professor (Enzo Tarascio) in France while on a fake honeymoon with his "petty" wife, Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli, playing the part with a marvelous mixture of oblivious commitment and hollowed sexiness). While on assignment, he flirts and sneaks to hidden corners with the Anna (Dominique Sanda), the professor's volatile, anti-Fascist wife, and attempts to keep his agency contact (Gastone Moschin) happy.
Bertolucci, only 29 at the time, commands the screen with a series of stylistic and technical haymakers. The timeline gets chopped up and scattered as if it were being prepared on Iron Chef, returning intermittently to Marcello's solemn façade as he gets driven through a snowy back road by his contact. Though the car ride is all melancholic gray, the rest of the film tilts at the spectrum. Most notable is the use of blue when Anna begs for her husband's life, right before going shopping with Giulia. It gives the night time setting an alien glow of nostalgia and (let's just say it) an irrevocably cool look.
Fundamentally, Bertolucci attacks the ideologies of the Fascists by embracing a cool, rupturing anti-hero in Marcello. His ultimately indefinable hatred for feeling and public love is expected, but it's the way that Bertolucci punctuates this with a series of perversities and devious acts that turns Marcello into a classic construction of complexity. The one time we see him wanting to openly have sex with his wife is when she tells him of a six-year, obviously detrimental affair she had with a 60-year-old family friend, in a train no less. Even more striking is the confessional scene, where Marcello openly (in front of Giulia) tells a priest about a sexual molestation and subsequent murder he was involved with as a child, and then talking of his need for "petty" things and a "normal" life. The point of the chat with the priest is that sin is no longer a surprise in the modern man, only the time it takes him to confess the acts and start racking up points again. Since he never made another film that even came close to The Conformist, the assumption would be that Bertolucci is in desperate need of some time with a man of the cloth.
The new extended edition DVD includes several making-of featurettes.
Aka Il Conformista.
Run time: 111 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 22nd October 1970
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Mars Films, Marianne Productions, Maran Film
Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
IMDB: 8.1 / 10
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Producer: Maurizio Lodi-Fe
Screenwriter: Bernardo Bertolucci
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant as Marcello Clerici, Stefania Sandrelli as Giulia, Gastone Moschin as Manganiello, Dominique Sanda as Anna Quadri, Enzo Tarascio as Professor Quadri, Fosco Giachetti as Il colonnello, José Quaglio as Italo, Pierre Clémenti as Lino, Yvonne Sanson as Madre di Giulia
Also starring: Bernardo Bertolucci