“Last Tango in Paris” (1972/73)
Source: Blu-ray. (Amount of time in personal collection before watching: 8 months).
Like Ken Russell’s Tommy, Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris is one of those films nobody ever told me about. No one suggested I watch it, likely my friends and film freaks had all assumed I had seen it. Strange, I’d been to the cinema to see Bertolucci’s The Dreamers and I consider Besieged to be one of the most – no, scratch that – the most beautiful love story put to film. But that’s just me. Some people think Sleepless in Seattle is the most beautiful love story ever filmed. And hey, that’s okay. But other than those two films I actually haven’t seen any others from Bertolucci’s filmography. But I have to admit, I’m glad it took me so long to get around to Last Tango. I think if I’d seen it earlier in my life, a lot of the film would have been lost on me – this was one of those rare instances where I felt like I saw the film at the right time in my life. The story, for the other two of you who might not have seen this film, concerns a middle-aged widower (Brando) who starts a passionate love affair with a young Perisian (Maria Schneider) who is full of young, misdirected energy. The Affair with Brando puts her into strange positions, both physically and emotionally, as she’s engaged to a young filmmaker in Paris. Her fiancé seems more concerned with documenting their love for his camera and film crew, which bores her, and she finds herself repeatedly going back to Brando, despite the obvious self-destructiveness of the affair, which begins to focus Maria’s dangerous energy as much as it’s splitting her emotions. In one of the most brilliantly subtle scenes in any film, Brando and Schneider discover a small keepsake hole in the floor of the semi-squalid flat he’d been renting in Paris. Brando wants to look inside, he thinks there might be treasure in there. Schneider is afraid to look, because she’s afraid of what might be lurking in the darkness. And this exactly sums up the entire theme of the film, as we watch it all unfold between these two leading characters, whom we may or may not like because both of them are a little bit like us, in many ways. Last Tango is also one of the most gorgeously shot films I’ve ever watched, with a perfect mix of the cinematic and the avant-garde within one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, perfectly framed by Vitorrio Storaro at 1.85:1 – an aspect ratio that I’m sorrily beginning to miss as modern films are almost exclusively going to the trendy 2.35:1 wider-screen, whether the story warrants it or not. Last Tango in Paris might have caused quite a bit of controversy when released in 1972, seeing it now is amazing, it’s become one of my favourite films of all time.