1900 (Novecento)

This review was originally written for Blueprint: Review.

Two boys, Alfredo and Olmo, are born within minutes of each other in January 1901. Alfredo is the grandson of landowner and family head Alfredo Berlinghieri (Burt Lancaster) whilst Olmo’s grandfather, Leo (Sterling Hayden), is a peasant and Alfredo Sr.’s foreman. The two boys grow up together, never forgetting their respective places within society and, once grown (into Robert DeNiro and Gérard Depardieu) they find themselves on opposite sides of a class struggle, exacerbated by the presence of fascist guards led by the new foreman, Attila (Donald Sutherland).
grandfathers Continue reading

Last Tango in Paris

This is one of those films that I’ve often heard mentioned, but never knew anything about, other than it had Marlon Brando wearing a long camel coat, and some degree of nudity. This is true on both counts, though ‘some’ could be something of an understatement, as barely a scene goes by without flesh being exposed, love being made or pleasure being administered by a character to themselves.
Our leads are Paul (Brando) and Jeanne (Maria Schneider, at the time a somewhat inexperienced actress). After several near-meetings and glimpses on the street and in a bar, she goes to rent an apartment that he has already entered. Without knowing one another’s names, or anything else, the two engage in a burst of passionate, impromptu sex, before embarking on a relationship centred around the apartment, despite troubles in their personal lives and an obvious age gap of at least twenty years.

The most annoying thing about this film is the dialogue, specifically Brando’s. He’s not known for his eloquence with enunciation, and here he excels himself with his mumbling. If it weren’t for the subtitles in some of his earlier scenes, I wouldn’t have known he was talking at all, and my constant need to keep readjusting the volume become tiresome after only a short while, and downright infuriating at the end, for almost everyone else speaks at a normal level (though Schneider has a go at mumbling too) and the score is at an average volume, but I had no desire to annoy my neighbours by keeping the sound at a raised level. This made for a very unpleasant viewing experience.
The script is scarred with hideous puns and double entendres (“What’s that for?” “Your happiness, and my hap-penis”) as well as enough crudity and sex scenes to make anyone blush. The scene where Paul rubs butter into Jeanne’s anus before raping her from behind is beyond uncomfortable (especially for her), as is the fact that she stays after the deed is done. Later, he seduces her by saying that he wants to get a pig, have the pig fuck her and vomit on her, then she eats the vomit and the pig dies whilst fucking her. I have no idea what that means, nor do I have any desire to, and in fact I’d have been happier had that been part of the dialogue I hadn’t heard.
The relationship between the leads is interesting, as it provides something segregated from their everyday, troubled lives, but it seems to bring about more problems than it solves. Schneider is shot attractively – the camera all but making love to her exposed thigh in an early shot in a phone booth – and the colour palette is full of sumptuous browns and ochres. Jeanne’s subplot involving her boyfriend making a semi-documentary film about their relationship was distracting and irritatingly confusing.
I wasn’t sure what I’d make of this film before going in, and I’m only slightly more sure of what happened during it now that it’s thankfully over. If Brando, who admittedly is excellent, hadn’t been in the film I doubt it’d be on the List, and the audio problems, lack of a fully structured plot and unnecessary diversions make this more annoying than entertaining.
Choose life 4/10

The Conformist

It’s probably not much of a recommendation to say that, only a month after having watched it and having read the notes I took at the time, I cannot remember much about this film. The plot was incomprehensible, mainly because the narrative was chopped up and flitted between with little to no acknowledgement, and if I hadn’t read that it was about a hitman I’d probably never have known.
Our protagonist is Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a fascism-supporting, recently engaged man with a sordid past, who desperately wants to fit in with society. So jumbled up is the structure of the film that I’m reluctant to say anything that happens, as I can’t be sure of the order shown during the runtime, so if there are spoilers within this review then I apologise.
We discover details of Clerici’s past from a forced confession he must make before his marriage, in which we are told that, as a lonely young schoolboy, his family driver molested him, until one day Clerici shot him in a scene where the squibs in the walls are distractingly visible long before they are used. His bride has similar stories of being raped in her youth, but the scene in which she describes the experience to Clerici is genuinely disturbing, as it seems to excite him, and he attempts to turn her on by almost enacting the molestation out upon her as she describes it.
You probably won’t be surprised to find out that this film is Italian, so whilst interestingly shot – lots of angled cameras, leaves blowing at foot level and rays of sunlight through a forest of trees – there’s also a great deal of sporadic nudity and spontaneous sex scenes.
The impenetrable, David Lynch-like plot sees Clerici diverting from his Parisian honeymoon to assassinate his anti-fascist former lecturer, and also visit the man’s wife Anna, with whom Clerici probably used to know on a carnal level, but along the way many of the scenes have elements of strangeness – when Clerici buys a bouquet of flowers, the seller and her singing children proceed to follow him around, another time he manages to lead a decreasing conga spiral out from the inside. I found it incredibly difficult to commit to a film so nonsensical, as I always felt I was being left out of something.
Choose life 3/10

The Spider’s Stratagem

I’ll be honest, I lost track of this film. It seems to involve a man investigating the death of his father, but I really don’t know what happened after that. Every character seems to be contradictory, saying one thing then immediately changing their mind or acting oppositely, and the plot seemed to move backwards and forwards without warning, notification, explanation or reason. There was some lovely dialogue though (“I’m 74, and I’ll buy a drink for anyone who pisses further than me.”)
Choose life 2/10