Last Tango In Paris

Last Tango In Paris

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Paul is a lonely American businessman struggling to make sense of things after the death of his wife. Jeanne is an ebullient young woman drifting haphazardly through life, caught up in a romance with an ambitious young filmmaker whom she doesn't know if she loves. When they meet in a deserted Paris apartment it's lust at first sight, but the affair which begins there refuses to submit to the restraints they try to place on it. Wary of emotional involvement, Paul shuns conversation and refuses to exchange names. Their actions are self-consciously sordid and self-serving, but nevertheless something develops between them which threatens to overwhelm them both.

It's strange to look back on 1972 and see Marlon Brando as he was then, already ageing badly yet still possessed of the vitality and brooding edginess which made him one of Hollywood's all time greats. Last Tango In Paris is perhaps his last truly great film, and bringing him together as it does with Bertolucci, it's something which no lover of film can afford to miss.

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The great director is at play here, using the long, slow movements of the film to build a complex of dazzling images. Working almost entirely in shades of brown, bringing out the textures of wood and flesh, he makes the lovers seem like part of the furniture in dusty rooms with a history of their own. His continual focus on surfaces - bare skin, bare floors, the slow-flowing Seine - merely hints at what runs deeper, but the madness of incidental characters and the occasional bright flash from a green glass bottle or a jewelled collar are a potent reminder.

The pivotal tango scene, gorgeously artificial, recalls an earlier clip of squabbling ducks. The dancers turn their heads at odd angles. Paul advises Jeanne to watch their legs. Like tango dancers, the protagonists attempt to keep everything formal, but there's no sense in any of it without that underlying passion.

Last Tango In Paris is a big, slow film, and many viewers will find it too slow, tiring long before the end. Paul's cynicism, though essential to his character, can become frustrating to watch, as can Jeanne's constant furious attempts to assert herself and redefine the world to suit her needs. Counterpointing the slow build-up of the central relationship is the more movie-conventional carefree wooing of Jeanne by her younger admirer, whose enthusiastic pretensions are affectionately satirised.

Also helping to keep the viewer involved is the sheer visual beauty of Bertolucci's work. This digitally remastered version has polished up really nicely, so it's looking better than it's done in years. It's really a big screen film, making wonderful use of space, so don't miss your chance to see it in the cinema.

Some viewers, of course, will go to see this film because of its legendary sex scenes. Unfortunately, the chances are that they'll be disappointed. Despite being banned in several countries, it contains more implication than direct action, and is really quite tame by today's standards. It's not so much about sex as about the behaviour that surrounds it - the sense of obligation to make small talk, the awkward silences, the shared fantasies and childish games which refuse to gel with the real world. These are the intimacies which inadvertently bind people to one another. This is the spell which Paul and Jeanne both become desperate to break as we watch them dance toward destruction.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2007
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Last Tango In Paris packshot
Two strangers meet in a empty apartment and begin a passionate but anonymous affair.
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Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Writer: Bernardo Bertolucci

Starring: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Maria Michi

Year: 1972

Runtime: 136 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy, France

Festivals:

CFF 2007

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