May 5, 2005
The Conformist (1970)
Grade: 47/100

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Dominique Sanda

What it's about. Set in 1938 fascist Italy, Marcello (Trintignant) is a secret policeman, newlywed to frivolous, lovely Giulia (Sandrelli). Marcello is sent to France to assassinate his former professor, Quadri (Enzo Tarascio), but instead befriends him and his hot young blonde wife Anna (Sanda).

How others will see it. A stylish film, The Conformist has many features that will please audiences: it's in color, is dubbed, has two beautiful actresses in leading roles, has bad guys with guns, and innocents in peril. I'm afraid that most people who see the movie will enjoy it.

How I felt about it. The Conformist is not a political film, even though our lead, Marcello, claims to be a fascist. In fact, he is simply a CIA-type employee who enjoys his decadent life and decides not to reflect upon whether what he or his government does is wrong. In short, he considers himself a practical man.

But once sent to France to kill, he soon develops doubts. Not about fascism, or whether Quadri deserves death. But Quadri is a flesh and blood man, and Marcello is attracted to his wife. He doesn't want to be saved from Mussolini's dictatorship, especially since he benefits from it. He just doesn't want to kill Quadri. Adding pressure to the decision is the shadowy presence of Manganiello (Gastone Moschin), Marcello's fellow secret policeman, who has no qualms when it comes to state-sanctioned murder.

Marcello is a bland individual, and his conflict is internal. He's not interesting, and the intellectual Quadri isn't interesting, which leaves the two pretty women, who are interesting because they are less inhibited. Giulia is childlike and craves attention. Anna is cautious yet cannot help but love others, even her suspected enemy, Marcello.

The story is rather pedestrian. The killer has doubts. Can he be reformed? The ending is not easily predicted, but the resolution does not satisfy. What we have a thin story supported by excellent production values. Art direction, costumes, and cinematography are all first rate. But while The Conformist is lovely to look at, that does not make its story and its telling any less tedious.

Oh, and what child molestor would give a loaded gun to his unrestrained victim, while the child is being molested? What is the necessity of such a scene, in any event?

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