Sunday, January 25, 2015

2015 Blind Spot Series: The Conformist

Italian cinema is something I feel I haven't even scratched the surface on. The Bicycle Thief was shown to me in film class years ago and I was aware of De Sica, Bertolucci, Antonioni, and Rossellini. I just hadn't fully dived in. After seeing The Conformist, I have added a bunch of their films to my must watch list.

I first heard about The Conformist through interviews of Francis Ford Coppola. It being an influence on his style for The Godfather. Coppola would go so far as to use Vitorrio Storaro for his cinematographer on Apocalypse Now. With The Godfather and Apocalypse being two of my favorite films of all time I figured I needed to see the source (or at least one of the sources) of it.

Bertolucci's film deals with the act of cowardice and betrayal. So when dealing with those themes, the setting and era of the story becomes perfectly clear as to why it was chosen- Italy during Mussolini's fascist regime reigned. The very notion of giving someone up in order to save your own skin always interested me. It's like a knife to the heart. Being that it revolves around fascism, the concept of conformity comes across in an almost Invasion of the Body Snatchers like manner. Minus the pods and human faced dogs running around.

The lead is played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, who, after seeing Amour for the first time, has become one of my favorite world cinema actors.

The trenchcoats and fedoras that litter this world reminded me of Melville's Le Samourai. The score guides us along the story like a feather being lightly blown further and further along by a gentle breeze. The architecture of Italy is also featured prominently in the exterior shots.

The way it is shot though is something to behold. Vittorio Storaro brilliantly captures sunlight coming into rooms. The golden hue during the love scene on the train. The way the set design complements the camera movement. Controlled in parts but using whip pans and zoom ins at specific points of the narrative. All of this leads to a beautiful yet tense climax in the woods. The way the scene was shot is breathtaking and is surely one of my favorite scenes in film.

The Conformist is a film that helped stylistically paved the way for Coppola's 70's films. Even taken on its own merit though, it is an assured and visually stunning film from Bernardo Bertolucci.

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