Saturday, June 9, 2007

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Starring Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, and Jean-Pierre Léaud.

This film aroused (no pun intended) quite a scandal in its day for its frank depiction of sexuality, but I believe there was more to the controversy than simply sex. After all, the 1970s saw the rise of porn both of the soft- and hardcore stripe. What I think really struck viewers at the time wasn't the explicitness of the sex scenes, but the emotional nakedness of the main characters. Marlon Brando, in perhaps his greatest performance, stars as the recently-widowed Paul, who meets Schneider's Jeanne for anonymous sex only to find it increasingly difficult not to connect with her. The film also examines the characters' outside lives, as Jeanne grows frustrated with her filmmaker fiancé (Léaud), and Paul comes to grips with his wife's death, culminating in one of the most impassioned monologues on film, as an anguished Paul sits next to his wife's corpse. While the film's sexuality has become less shocking since its release, the rawness of the emotion still packs a wallop.

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