Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 36, No 11 May 30th, 1973
Films — The Last Tango in Paris
The Last Tango in Paris.
The film Last Tango in Paris has raised a storm over sex in cinema as the Clockwork Orange raised over violence. This is more than superficial similarity for Bertolucci and Kubrick have similar styles. After seeing both films you walk away with the feeling that the most important feature has been left out; there is a nagging emptiness as you leave the cinema. The essence of the Last Tango is the turbulent relationship between Paul (Brando) and Jeanne (Maria Schneider). At the start of the film Paul has just experienced his wife's suicide. He is getting old and in his many previous occupations he never found the same security that his short five year marriage had. The suicide has brought him to a new depraved emptiness and taken him "right up the ass of death".
Jeanne is much younger than Paul and conventional where he is anarchic. In Jeanne occurs most of the conflict of the film as she battles between the desires Paul arouses in her and the life she was leading until then and will continue to lead after the affair.
Paul from the beginning dictates the affair and his violent masculinity initiates a strong response from Jeanne even within minutes of meeting each other as they indulge in a quick stand up fuck. Paul wants to degrade Jeanne to his level for he believes that only people like him are capable of understanding the basic processes of life. His sexual acts with Jeanne become more and more sadistic but she finds herself unable to escape from the relationship. Paul unconsciously begins to see Jeanne as his last hope for real love although he does not admit this to either himself or Jeanne until the affair is already doomed.
Jeanne struggles against her involvement and degradation until finally she decides that it cannot go on any more. Paul then meets her in the street and begins an old fashioned and humorous courtship that is one of the best sequences of a film that does not have a good standard of humour. Jeanne however finds that when she goes to leave him he follows her unable to realise that she does not share his love. Heavily drunk Paul chases her to her mothers apartment where he forces his way in. Then comes the supposedly tragic ending where Jeanne grabs a gun out of a drawer and shoots him as he comes to embrace her. The film ends with her muttering "I don't know him. I don't even know his name, he tried to rape me, he was crazy...."
The conjunction of Paul and Jeanne poses few questions and answers still fewer. It is a film about emptiness and degradation that falls into the trap of using the theme as a style of direction. A style based on emptiness must lack inspiration and this is Bertoluccis main failing. The film is well acted as we expect with Brando but the photography is dull with little of the beauty associated with most Italian cinema. The direction is by a man who is capable of better yet who, like Kubrick, is never able to realise this potential because he is unable to deal with humanity in the broad sense and therefore cannot incite a sympathetic reaction from his audiences. Last Tango is a mundane film that wastes the possibilities of good cinema. The film does not even fulfil the conditions of good bourgeoise cinema because it does not pick out the good guys for the audience to cheer.