The Conformist (1970)
Style but Substance!
As Mussolini comes into power, Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) gets an assignment with the secret police having made certain people aware he is a fascist. His mission involves him and new wife Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) heading on their honeymoon to Paris where he must kill a former teacher of his, Professor Quadri (Enzo Tarascio), who is part of an anti-fascist resistance group. But when he meets Quadri and his wife Anna (Dominique Sanda) not only does he have feeling for the professor's wife but he is haunted by an incident from his childhood which makes him doubt whether he can kill the professor.
There is no denying that with "The Conformist" Bernardo Bertolucci has delivered a visually stunning movie but stunning doesn't mean good. The trouble is that the style dominates the movie and it almost feels like Bertolucci has trawled through a notebook of ideas for creative shots and piled them all into one movie whether needed or not. The outcome of this is that the storyline ends up relegated to the background and in scenes where the storyline develops a stylish flourish will end up distracting you.
Now some people will love this because it makes "The Conformist" a very arty movie full of exquisite shots and again I cannot deny that visually some of the craftsmanship is magnificent. But for me a movie needs to be more than just a clever scene walking by an architecturally intriguing building shot at an unusual angle and the actual storyline did little for me. Maybe part of the trouble is that the styling constantly distracted me but also the editing made the narrative jar and awkward enough to follow without taking into account all those stylish flourishes. Having only watched "The Conformist" the once I do wonder whether it is a movie which needs to be watched more than once so the first time you can be distracted by the styling and then subsequent viewing allows you to try and follow the narrative more.
What this all boils down to is that "The Conformist" didn't do it for me and felt like the work of director putting every idea he had into one movie whether it required it or not. I will say again that visually there are few movies which are as eye catching as this but for me the exuberant styling is too much for the story and makes it a movie all about the style over the substance.
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