(FILM ONLY REVIEW)
Often when you come to see a film adaptation of a book you love you find yourself hugely disappointed with the results, even such a valiant adaptation as the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy still inevitably lacks some of the depth of the original printed version. However 'Il Conformista' (The Conformist) is one glorious exception to this rule and might even be better than its source material.
'The Conformist' started off as a novel by the Italian author Alberto Moravia and deals with the plight of a young man who becomes swept up by the fascist takeover in Mussolini's Italy. It is set in 1938 where a young government official Marcello Clerici is haunted by violent events in his past going back to his childhood. These events have in his own mind corrupted him morally in a way that he can never reconcile. In order to escape his 'nature' he subsumes himself in his surroundings and when Fascists rise to power in the country he adapts and as the title suggest conforms unthinkingly to their philosophy. Soon his devotion to fascism is tested when he is asked to assassinate his former university professor who was once his mentor but who is now belongs to an anti fascist faction. Marcello's blind allegiance to fascism and his desire to be part of the crowd will mean committing murder but matters are complicated by the appearance of the professor's attractive younger wife.
This film adaptation by Bernardo Bertolucci is essentially the same as Moravia's book, apart from a less conclusive ending and some minor changes in plot detail. What the film has to recommend it above the novel is Bertollucci visual interpretation of the alienation of the central character and a change from the chronological order of the events in the book in to a much more spliced flashback structure unravelling the story as the climactic moment of the plot is about to take place.
Bertolucci clinically takes apart the central character and slowly reveals what lies deep down in his tortured psyche that has lead him to this ultimate act of violence. Taking into account that this was one of Bertolucci's (at the time only 29) earliest film before he when on to make other classic 'Last Tango in Paris' (1972) and 'The Last Emperor' (1987) it shows great maturity inventiveness in both the writing done by Bertollucci himself and the cinematography led by Vittorio Storaro (later of 'Apocalypse Now' fame).
Bertolucci uses the themes of Moravia's book and expands on them. Like Moravia he tries to explain the corrupting influence of Fascism and how easy it is for vulnerable individuals to let themselves be seduced by it. He also uses the Platonic ideas of reality, as expressed by Professor Quadri to Marcello in the film. Simply put Plato states that one man's view of reality is subjective, in order to really achieve the truth behind his own existence a man must see behind the illusion of reality and go beyond to reveal it. Marcello like the man in the Plato's cave is trapped he only sees the entrance of the cave obscured by a curtain with the fire on the other side casting shadows on it, which to the man are the reality of his world, note that in the film we see Marcello's shadow on the wall as Quadri explaining all this. In Marcello's case he is trapped by his violent abusive past and his inability to face up to it, for him the authoritarian philosophy of the fascists allow him not to make decisions for himself but simply act like an automaton blindly following orders in order to be accepted and valued.
Marcello is sexually repressed, his early abusive homosexual experiences have left him with a hatred of overt sexual desire and impropriety and although he engages in a sexual relationship with his snobby, vacuous wife Guilia he doesn't enjoy it feeling disdain and detachment from the sexual act almost a revulsion to it. Yet at the same time he is unable to control is lustful feelings for the Professors' young wife Anna. Believing in his irredeemable corrupt nature he seeks moral rectitude in the conformity and conservatism of the fascist as one of the fascist officers assigned to help Marcello states
"I can't stand cowards, homosexuals and Jews. They all should be eliminated when born."
and thus sums up the philosophy of hate and intolerance that fascism represents. Of course Marcello soon learns that the fascist themselves prove to be more morally corrupt than anyone else.
Bertolucci uses visuals symbols aplenty to bring to the audience the dilemma faced by Marcello sometimes staying into surrealism to illustrate the confusion of Marcello thoughts. We even have a blind character Italo who is the 'ideal' fascist in Marcello's eyes; of course the 'blind' misplaced faith is the key to this belief.
Much of the success of the film is due to an exceptional central performance by Jean-Louis Trintignant as the troubled Marcello, his brooding look and demeanour fit perfectly the emotionally damaged character he is playing. Trintignant plays the dour tortured soul very believably. While we understand his failings and motivations once his past becomes clear, we never feel sympathy for him, he is too subservient and lacking of any emotional impact to do this, which is fine because the interpretation of the character is supposed to like this. Marcello is unable to confront his true self he hides away in an oppressive philosophy and is willing to be used in any way so long as he can 'belong' with the crowd. Moravia and Bertolucci use Marcello as a symbol of Italy's acquiescence to fascism in the pre war years while we can explain why it happened we still can't excuse it.
The film is a dark study of human consciousness and even though it uses vibrant colour it often reminds me of a film noir. Bertolucci manages to convey the claustrophobic nature of the book with clever use of visual effects; odd camera angles strange backdrops and sometimes a documentary hand held camera style. Finally George Delerue provides an effective musical soundtrack, which complement the action perfectly.
'Il Conformista' is a dark moody, disturbing masterpiece of filmmaking and probably Bertolucci at his very best. Anyone who know the book or who is interested in the art of filmmaking should see this film.
CAST & TECHNICAL DETAILS
Jean-Louis Trintignant ... Marcello Clerici
Stefania Sandrelli ... Giulia
Gastone Moschin ... Manganiello
Enzo Tarascio ... Professor Quadri
Fosco Giachetti ... Il Colonnello
Dominique Sanda... Anna Quadri
José Quaglio ... Italo
Directed and written by Bernardo Bertolucci based on a novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia. Bertolucci rightly received an Oscar nomination for this adaptation and the film made his reputation as one of the brightest young talents of his generation.
On its original release on video the film was badly edited but fortunately a restored version is now available on DVD certificate:18 (111 min in English).
© Mauri 2007