Last Tango in Paris

 

Last Tango in Paris

Written by Bernardo Bertolucci & Franco Arcalli

Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

1972

 

Cast:

Marlon Brando

Maria Schneider

Jean-Pierre Leaud

Maria Michi

Gitt Magrini

Massimo Girotti

Giovanna Galletti

 

Production:

Theatrical: Les Productions Artistes Associes & PEA

Video: MGM Home Entertainment

 

Video:

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC

Disc Size: 41.37 GB

Feature Size: 40.73 GB

Avg. Video Bit Rate: 36.11 Mbps

Runtime: 129 minutes

Chapters: 32

Region: All

 

Audio:

English DTS-HD MA 2.0 (!!!!!)

French Dolby Digital 2.0

Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0

German Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Subtitles:

English, English SDH, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish & Thai

 

Extras:

• Original Theatrical Trailer

 

Presentation:

Amaray Blu-ray Case: BD x 1

Release Date: February 15, 2011



Introduction:

In time for this year’s Oscar presentations at the end of this month, Fox is issuing three past Oscar nominated films: Rain Man is the most recent; it won for Best Picture of 1988.  It also gave Dustin Hoffman his second Oscar (the first was for Kramer Vs. Kramer in 1979), and awards for Best Director (Barry Levinson) and Writing (Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow).  Moonstruck (1987) won for Best Actress (Cher) and Supporting Actress (Olympia Dukakis) and for Best Screenplay (John Patrick Shanley).  The oldest of the three, Last Tango in Paris was nominated for Best Actor (Marlon Brando) and Director (Bernardo Bertolucci).  Curiously, Brando won for The Godfather the year previous even though both movies came out the same calendar year Last Tango didn’t qualify until 1973.


     

 

The Score Card

 

The Movie : 8

Robert Di Niro comes up whenever we think about actors who have undergone tremendous physical change for the sake of their character.  But my vote is for Marlon Brando.  Think of it: Last Tango and The Godfather in the same year: The Godfather released in March of 1972, Last Tango in October.  In the one, he is a self-styled lothario, in decline perhaps, but still with that magnetism that made Brando seductive and dynamic.  The other, a man used to being treated as a god on Earth, at least 20 years older, in full control of his faculties and his authority, but well past being thought of as a sexual man - by the audience I mean. In The Godfather our consideration lies elsewhere.

 

No names. No past. In Bernardo Bertolucci’s first English language film, Marlon Brand plays Paul, a man tortured by the recent inexplicable suicide of his wife.  His first words, “Fucking God!”, yelled at the top of his lungs far from the scene of her death, scarcely touches the depths of his anguish - a pain, not so much bound with loss as outrage.  He is dazed and stupefied by what strikes him, I think, as the arbitrariness of it all.


     


He meets, quite by chance, Jeanne (Maria Schneider), a much younger woman, full of the promise of life and love perhaps. In his need to reconnect with a human being and ensure he does so without intimacy he engages in a quasi sado-masochistic sexual relationship with her over a period of weeks, insisting that no personal information is exchanged, a rule whose boundaries are relentlessly challenged.  They meet in an unfurnished apartment.  It is a curious meeting: he seems always to be there whenever she drops in, as if he has no other life, a shade, hiding in the shadows.  It is possible that he is always there, despite the time-distorting flashbacks that might be now as they are certainly shortly after his wife’s death.  Jeanne, on the other hand, has a life that she returns to: a fiance, Tom (Jean-Pierre Leaud) - a young movie nut, naive as a child, who is making a cinema verité film about her.  Tom is unspoiled.  He admires Jeanne as his personal goddess and, in his way, he remains detached, despite and by virtue of the gaze of his camera.


     

 

There was a great deal of revisionist probing of the heart and mind by the three principals (Brando, Schneider and Bertolucci) over the years that further heightened the film’s notoriety.  Schneider, who died at 59 only two weeks before the release of this Blu-ray, later referred to Brando and Bertolucci (especially the latter) as gangsters and pimps. “I am not a prostitute” she would declare, when offered other sexually graphic movie roles.  By the way, Last Tango in Paris is, for all its original “X” and later NC-13 ratings, not graphic, unless you count a considerable amount of female frontal nudity - nor do I find it particularly erotic (pacé Pauline Kael).  Last Tango in Paris strikes me as a study in non-intimate sex, and as such makes for an interesting contrast to Adrian Lyne’s “Nine 1/2 Weeks” which intends to be as alluring and romantic as a perfume commercial, despite the sadism.


     


Here are excerpts of three reviews: two by Roger Ebert and Vincent Canby at the film’s release, and another by Ebert twenty-three years later.

 

[ebert/1972]

Bernardo Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris" is one of the great emotional experiences of our time. It's a movie that exists so resolutely on the level of emotion, indeed, that possibly only Marlon Brando, of all living actors, could have played its lead. Who else can act so brutally and imply such vulnerability and need? For the movie is about need; about the terrible hunger that its hero, Paul, feels for the touch of another human heart. He is a man whose whole existence has been reduced to a cry for help -- and who has been so damaged by life that he can only express that cry in acts of crude sexuality.

Bertolucci begins with a story so simple (which is to say, so stripped of any clutter of plot) that there is little room in it for anything but the emotional crisis of his hero. The events that take place in the everyday world are remote to Paul, whose attention is absorbed by the gradual breaking of his heart. The girl, Jeanne, is not a friend and is hardly even a companion; it's just that because she happens to wander into his life, he uses her as an object of his grief.


     


[canby]

Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris is a beautiful, courageous, foolish, romantic, and reckless film and Bertolucci is like a diving champion, drunk on enthusiasm, who dares dive from the high board knowing well that the pool is half empty. The stunt comes off, but the dive is less grand than we might expect from what we've heard and read, and especially from what we know of Bertolucci. I mention this at the outset because the film is being so overpraised (and overpriced) that many disappointed people may be reluctant to indulge its failures, thus to miss its achievements, which are considerable. . .


The finest things about Last Tango in Paris are the set scenes, riotous, furious, frenzied celebrations of the differences between men and women. Oddly enough, I found them more funny, occasionally more embarrassing, even more philosophical, than erotic. The intensity of Brando's anger and humor, and the desperation with which he sets out to insulate himself from the world through this affair, are very special to behold. His language—crude, witty, magnificently vulgar—and the stories that tumble out in the form of random monologues are unlike anything we've ever heard on the screen before. It sounds tough as hell, which explains, I think, why the film's full-blown, almost old-fashioned romanticism goes unnoticed. In spite of all the simulated sex, everything in the film is touched by exotic fancy.


     


[ebert / 1995]

"Last Tango" premiered, in case you have forgotten, on Oct. 14, 1972. It did not quite become a landmark. It was not the beginning of something new, but the triumph of something old - the "art film," which was soon to be replaced by the complete victory of mass-marketed "event films." The shocking sexual energy of "Last Tango in Paris" and the daring of Marlon Brando and the unknown Maria Schneider did not lead to an adult art cinema. The movie frightened off imitators, and instead of being the first of many X-rated films dealing honestly with sexuality, it became almost the last. Hollywood made a quick U-turn into movies about teenagers, technology, action heroes and special effects. And with the exception of a few isolated films like "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and "In the Realm of the Senses," the serious use of graphic sexuality all but disappeared from the screen. . .


The first time I saw the film there was the shock of its daring. The "butter scene" had not yet been cheapened in a million jokes, and Brando's anguished monologue over the dead body of his wife - perhaps the best acting he has ever done - had not been analyzed to pieces. It simply happened. I once had a professor who knew just about everything there was to know about "Romeo and Juliet," and told us he would trade it all in for the opportunity to read the play for the first time. I felt the same way during the screening: I was so familiar with the film that I was making contact with the art instead of the emotion.


     


The look, feel and sound of the film are evocative. The music by Gato Barbieri is sometimes counterpoint, sometimes lament, but it is never simply used to tell us how to feel. Vittorio Storaro's slow tracking shots in the apartment, across walls and the landscapes of bodies, are cold and remote; there is no attempt to heighten the emotions. The sex is joyless and efficient, and beside the point: Whatever the reasons these two people have for what they do with one another, sensual pleasure is not one of them. . .


The ending. The scene in the tango hall is still haunting, still part of the whole movement of the third act of the film, in which Paul, having created a searing moment out of time, now throws it away in drunken banality. The following scenes, leading to the unexpected events in the apartment of Jeanne's mother, strike me as arbitrary and contrived. But still Brando finds a way to redeem them, carefully remembering to park his gum before the most important moment of his life.


     

 

Image : 6/7

My memory of what this film looked like on DVD (alas, I no longer have a copy to compare) was a pretty drab and shabby affair.  But I was quite surprised by Fox’s new Blu-ray transfer.  Not only is it presented without noise reduction, black boosting or edge enhancement (Is it possible that studios are finally getting the message!), but it is reasonably clean of debris or scratches.  Color seems to good, though Brando’s face seems to go red-orange on occasion.  There is a grain, which is a good thing as far as it goes, but there is also softness, occasionally quite poor, and lack of any detail to speak of in all but a few close-ups and some freeze shots at the tango bar.  Despite these niggles that are very likely properly relegated to the source material, a very acceptable transfer, much better than experience would have promised.


     

 

Audio & Music : 5/7

I want to credit Fox with giving us a DTS-HD MA version of the mono track instead of some entirely inappropriate re-imagining into 5.1 (one of my most frequently mentioned bugaboos).  Brando’s mutterings, in French as well as English, are clear enough, and I suspect that what looping and mixing with effects and musical score we hear resides in the original mix.

 

Extras : 1

Only the original theatrical trailer – but at least it’s in HD.


     

 

Recommendation : 7

In its day, Last Tango is Paris was one of the great controversies, as was Baby Doll before it.  It was not the nudity so much as the language (sexual and irreverent) and bloodless sadism that made people uncomfortable.  And then there was the question of the point of it all, made all the more obscure by the time-distortions - stuff audiences can manage blindfolded today.  While not a movie that be appreciated, let alone endured, by everyone, even film buffs, it should be seen if for no other reason than because it is one of Brando’s best performances.


     

 

 

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

March 5, 2011


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