Sunday, 10 July 2016
1,001 Films: "Last Tango in Paris" (1972)
Back in 1972 - the year of Deep Throat - Last Tango in Paris was the respectable face of screen erotica, a movie for audiences too timid to try anything that might be tarred with the porno brush. Nowadays, it's possible to see Bertolucci's film for what it perhaps always was: yes, the progenitor of the same cinema of extremes that later brought us The Piano Teacher and anything directed by Catherine Breillat (who has a minor speaking role here); but also the hetero Death in Venice - i.e. a phony classic, a preposterous, overrated, never-especially-sexy psychodrama operating somewhere between a light snooze and a total turn-off.
Weirdly haired, raincoat-clad, middle-aged miseryguts Marlon Brando, torturing himself and everybody else around him because of a suicide he probably caused, turns up to view an empty Paris flat that boasts one very mod con: the ripe and pouting yet supremely suggestible 70s chick Maria Schneider. He mumbles something that sounds like "I'll take it" - he's not solely talking about the appartement, you understand - and the two strike up a sulky, sadomasochistic affair in which sex serves both as a balm and a way to forget, and from which there can only ever be one way out.
Then-modish addenda include some wannabe Godard-Truffaut scenes featuring Jean-Pierre Leaud as a director with whom Schneider at least gets to have some degree of fun; with Brando, alas, she spends half her time listening to his incredibly tedious anecdotes ("the ass of death... the womb of fear," he drones, to cite but two of the script's rejected subtitles for Star Trek movies), and the other half getting manhandled to such an extent that she was later to complain about her on-set treatment. The nadir, of course, arrives when Brando performs his "knob of butter" trick on his sobbing conquest, where you don't know what's worse: the intimations of anal rape, or the leading man's horrible Dralon trousers, worn at a solemn half-mast.
As films about lovers attempting to shut out the real world go, it really isn't a patch on the resonant and formally controlled In the Realm of the Senses, though it might serve as an early example of the way Brando would routinely unbalance his 1970s work, a tendency (a personality flaw?) visible in everything from The Missouri Breaks to Apocalypse Now, becoming a burden apt to break the back of any film so conspicuously groping towards naturalism. A lot of Tango, specifically, now looks like chestbeating chauvinist nonsense, all po faces engaged in zipless fucks, and emotional truth was simply never on the agenda. Let's put this on the record once and for all: no two people in the history of mankind have ever had a relationship like this.
Last Tango in Paris is available on DVD through 20th Century Fox.