Conformist, The (1970)

 A gorgeous snore-fest
A gorgeous snore-fest

Genre: Drama (Italy, France, West Germany)

Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant (Z Three Colours: Red), Stefania Sandrelli (1900 Jamón, jamón)

Directed By: Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in ParisThe Last Emperor)

Overview: During Italy’s Facist era in the 1930s, a government assassin is tasked with murdering his old college professor.

con·form intransitive verb

2a: to be obedient or compliant —usually used with to <conform to another's wishes> b : to act in accordance with prevailing standards or customs <the pressure to conform> 

Ungh! so HOT!

This film title, The Conformist, inspired an expectation that the subject I would be following would not be straight-forward. Perhaps this character would turn out to ironically go against the norm, or maybe have a change of heart that came out of an extreme trial, making our hero realize the error of his ways. Perhaps he was a double-agent with conformity as his greatest cover. Though “will he change?” remains a burning question throughout the film, it is clear that our conformist protagonist is deeply rooted in the mire of being a cowardly yes-man.

Based on Alberto Moravia's 1951 novel of the same name, The Conformist is the story of a man who is just that. Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant), during Mussolini’s fascist Italy of the 30s, is tasked with going to Paris to assassinate an expatriate, his old college teacher and anti-Fascist, professor Quadri (Enzo Tarascio). In a series of flashbacks, we learn how Marcello came to this point in his life: A childhood of alienation, a need for acceptance, the development of a jellied yellow spine and getting a job with the secret service. Rather than being a spy thriller about a man preparing for the quiet killing of a dissident, The Conformist is much more romanticized, far less cold. Marcello actually meets with his former teacher, engaging in several discussions. Marcello’s fiancée Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) and Anna (Dominique Sanda), the wife of professor Quadri, become integral characters. The four of them spend evenings dining together in Paris. This is not the story of how a man will be assassinated, but if the assassin will do his job at all.

Heavy on the philosophical and political angles, this is dramatic character study of a coward and not spy thriller. What sets The Conformist apart is its sheer beauty. One may know its cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, from such low-budget, sleeper art-house productions as Apocalypse Now and The Last Emperor, and in this film, he steals the director’s thunder, though part of the reason is because The Conformist isn’t very compelling. It’s not quite political drama or thriller. The not-quite-Romance seems out of place. Instead of doing his job, instead of being a good little conformist, Marcello waits and waffles like Hamlet. This waiting translates into we, the audience, getting lost in the gorgeous shots rather than the snail’s-pace storytelling. Though it was wonderful respite having astounding colour compositions and exteriors of ancient historical buildings, The Conformist seemed as though the director and cinematographer were at odds, one making a pastoral philosophical film, the other creating artistic cinema rife with symbolic vision. Sadly the beauty doesn’t quite carry us out of the boring and utterly forgettable life that Marcello thrusts upon us. When the payoff and the subsequent epilogue does come, it's too little, too late and too short.

 At least the women are beautiful.
At least the women are beautiful.

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 9 Script: 6 Plot: 5 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 66% (Lost In the Crowd)
Aftertaste:

You may recognize a very familiar face in Gastone Moschin, the man who plays the role of Marcello’s government contact. He’s the man who played Don Fanucci in The Godfather Part II.

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I remember watching this film, but I don't have many memories of it. I compare it to a meal at a chain restaurant. It's fine for what it is, serviceable, but not much more than that and nothing to inspire lasting memories.

 In fact, that was my opinion later on the same day I watched it. It made almost no impression on me. Sort of interesting in the sense that this is the effect the title character is going for. 


I have to disagree since The Conformist is my favorite Bertolucci film and I loved every part of it. Yes it is subtle and maybe a little too political but I think it is a gem amongst the hundreds of superb films of the 1970's.Might not be for every tastes I guess.


I find that your tastes and mine frequently differ, but I can always stand behind your choices, you Classic Truffaut/Hitchock/Fellini loving film lover, you!


Squish - Please try try to check The Conformist out again in a couple of years, and see if you view it any differently.

I love this film unabashedly.  The final assassination scene on the country road is one of the greatest things I have ever seen

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