Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 7. 11th April 1973
In an unexpected exhibition of deference to taste, the Lido is now showing a much praised film entitled 'The Conformist'. Bernado Bertolucci's only real success prior to 'Last Tango in Paris'. But, in spite of the list of complimentary reviews this clever little melodrama can boast, it left me quite uncertain of what all the fuss is about.
Based on Alberto Moravia's uncharacteristically earnest novel of the same name, "The Conformist' is a solid story featuring two traditionally Italian playfellows, politics and vice. Its protagonist, and the conformist of the piece is Marcello Iorly, a member of Mussorini's SS assigned to the elimination of anti-facist provocateurs, and sufferer of existential malaise. Confused by his own amorality, and contemptuous of the inevitable alienation from everyday society his professional role involves, he marries an inane petit-bourgeois in order to surround himself in 'normality' (his phrase not mine).
However, the central incident of the film, a mission involving the assassination of Iorly's former philosophy lecturer, with whose wife he forms a predictable sexual liaison, brings about the expected moral crisis of lorly's situation. The assassination is completed with the full participation of his scatterbrained wife, a thought which strikes him only when the lecturer has suffered a gruesome death in the hands of some extraordinarily clumsy SS henchmen, and which takes him on to realise that his conventional marriage has been no more than a front for his perfidious political intrigues. In his conformity he finds only moral deceit; but of course there is no turning back at this point, and so he awaits release from this dilemma with a pained but stoic acceptance. Convincingly told by Bertolucci, this rather traumatic tale has feasibility, but unfortunately. Bertolucci treats it as a truism, and fails to explore the conclusion he draws as well as he explores his protagonist's motives for taking on conformity in the first place.
This is not a truly serious objection however. What is more troublesome is the failure of Bertolucci's attempts to find a style suitable for his brainchild. For while Bertolucci is visually stylish, he is quite unsure of the style he can use best. Consequently the film looks like the work of a thieving magpie. With whole scenes lifted from his many mentors. A snatch of Visconti precedes an imitation of Fellini which in turn gives way to something from Orson Welles. This would not be so bad were Bertolucci to improve upon the originals, but sadly no such luck. Everything looks very untidy; and this applies to the actors in particular. The usually impeccable Jean Louis Trimigant in the title role has to run the gamut of petty gangsterism, liberal intellectualism, romantic heroism and touching bewilderment, all of which is a little loo much for him, and his co-stars (who include Dominique Sandra and Stephanie Audran) seem just as unable to cope with Bertolucci's fluctuating presentation of his characters. The package is wrapped and sealed with some gratuitously tricky photography from Viltorio Storaro — irritating as it often is, there are several chilling moment to restore the balance, but one could hardly call it 'good' photography.
This is not a denial of Bertolucci's talent, which one can see bursting out of nearly every scene — it is rather a suggestion that this is not the emergence of a major director, but an impressive apprentice piece. 'Last Tango in Paris' may well be another story, but this one remains good without being very good.
For something to avoid, an early Peter Bogdanovich film entitled 'Targets' is a must. Made up of two loosely connected histories, that of Byron Orlock, the doyen of horror movies, and his retirement from show business, and that of a psychopathic youngster who shoots at anything vaguely human, this film must be a firm favorite to take the prize for the worst-movie-ever. Mr Orlock's story, supposedly poignant, because Boris Karloff took this as his last part, seems to have been dragged out of a trash can containing reject scripts for 'Bracken's World': the story of the psychopath is marginally worse, offering not a moment of plausible behaviour, nor a semblance of understanding what is involved in psychopathic rampages.
All this is done in the name of social conscience (the film purports to be a condemnation of U.S. gun laws) but how Mr Orlock is involved is beyond me, other than that Orlock's mock violence might be an incitement for deranged adolescents . . . I don't believe it however. The final shoot out in a drive-in movie lot has a measure of tension, and is mercifully tree of the inane chatter Orlock and cohorts have been mumbling for the previous hour: but the memory of Karloff's passing eyes and the psychopath's ludicrous all-Americanism that form the basis of the lead up just kill any chance the scene might have.