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Last Tango In Paris a.k.a. Ultimo tango a Parigi (1972)
While looking for an apartment, Jeanne, a beautiful young Parisienne, encounters Paul, a mysterious American expatriate mourning his wife's recent suicide. Instantly drawn to each other, they have a stormy, passionate affair, in which they do not reveal their names to each other. Their relationship deeply affects their lives, as Paul struggles with his wife's death and Jeanne prepares to marry her fiance, Tom, a film director making a cinema-verite documentary about her.
Marlon Brando ... Paul
Maria Schneider ... Jeanne
Maria Michi ... Rosa's Mother
Giovanna Galletti ... Prostitute
Gitt Magrini ... Jeanne's Mother
Catherine Allégret ... Catherine
Luce Marquand ... Olympia
Marie-Hélène Breillat ... Monique
Catherine Breillat ... Mouchette
Dan Diament ... TV Sound Engineer
Catherine Sola ... TV Script Girl
Mauro Marchetti ... TV Cameraman
Jean-Pierre Léaud ... Tom
Massimo Girotti ... Marcel
Peter Schommer ... TV Assistant Cameraman
Widely denounced as obscene upon its release and unjustifiably notorious for two of its scenes, Bernardo Bertolucci's 'Last Tango in Paris' is a savage story of lust and sexual debasement.
Marlon Brando delivers a ferocious performance as Paul, a middle-aged American expatriate tormented by his wife, Rosa's recent suicide, her infidelities and his failure to understand their relationship. In meeting a 20 year old girl, Jeanne, played by Maria Schneider, in an empty apartment, Paul hopes to form a relationship purely on his own terms and at his own pace, i.e. one he can understand fully. He insists on a new form of relationship, so basic that even their names were kept secret from each other, where she submitted to his every desire, where he could punish himself and relieve his despair and anger towards his wife by punishing Jeanne. Paul's only other interest is in Marcel (Massimo Girotti), Rosa's lover, for whom he has a curious respect and maybe a desire to obtain through him a better understanding of his own wife.
Despite his overpowering talent, Marlon Brando has often shown poor judgement in his choice of projects and has frequently trudged through films with no apparent effort or interest. In 'Last Tango in Paris' he gives everything and produces a performance of unrivalled force. Unfortunately the obvious improvisation in the film prevents the character of Paul from staying within check as he gradually becomes too much like Marlon Brando in the second half of the film. Nonetheless, when Brando is off-screen the film becomes hollow in comparison and is replaced by Jeanne's relationship with her fiance, an annoyingly pretentious TV director (Jean-Pierre Leaud).
This is a truly unique film and Bertolucci successfully highlights the romance in an affair that is fundamentally destructive. Brando's performance is remarkably powerful and intense, eclipsing every other player and dominating the entire film.
It was, in short, a film about sex and the way that human beings use sex as a refuge, a release, and a weapon… The frank dialog, the nudity, and the simulated sex were not gratuitously employed but were integral to the theme of the film, and if the picture was not totally successful, it was certainly unforgettable…
Marlon Brando appears as a middle-aged American—but not the kind of American in Paris glorified by either George Gershwin or Ernest Hemingway... This is a man tormented by inner conflict... Brando's Paul between self-hatred over his wife's suicide and his feelings for Maria Schneider's Jeanne, she between her adoring documentary filmmaker fiancé (based wittily on Godard) and the taboo-breaking Paul...
The stark, empty flat that is the lovers' retreat from conventional society, and the cold, windy pavement where Paul screams his loathing for the world against the din of a passing train—connects us with the mood of the film...
Eager to escape the oppressive walls of his dark life, Paul embarks on a very complete sexual experience with a willing young woman in which there is no history spoken, no promises of future liaisons, no ties of any kind with the outside...
The two lovers know nothing of each other, not even their names... Their affair is purely physical, and the barren apartment becomes, as Bertolucci intended, a world of debauchery on which is explored a catalog of behavior that seems more childish than kinky...
Jeanne is a child-woman... She asks what she should call Paul, and they proceed to give themselves names brought only out of grunts, growls and screeches... Paul's cruelty is not justified and perhaps this is what attracts the modish girl... Some scenes emotionally are so provocative that you experience a wide range of feelings... Paul never asks Jeanne a direct question, but is constantly framing her for his next experiment, besides he assaults her, humiliates her and pushes her over the edge... There is one great moment for the heroine when she refuses Paul's power play and is equally unimpressed by his new declarations of love... She insists: 'It's over!'
The film is beautifully shot... The cinematography is unique, somber, shadowy and painterly... It presents despair, and the music reinforce the despairing mood... The movie is also intensely erotic, intensely realistic, immensely disturbing... The extreme frankness makes faintly uncomfortable viewing, not only because of its sexual material but because of its exploration of our inner nature with true perspective... Hopefully, younger viewers can turn their minds back to a time when sex was mysterious and beautiful; dangerous and daring; not just easy and transitory... Sex nearly always implies intimacy, but doesn't always provide it...
'Last Tango in Paris' is one of the great explorations of cinema's visual possibilities… Bertolucci camera's movements throughout the film characterize the rights steps of the tango which the two main characters execute at the climax of the film... We feel swept away by the beauty of the tango despite the tragic quality of the acts and events it escorts... The film does prove Bertolucci to be a true filmmaker capable of the audacity of Jean-Luc Godard and the distinctive style of Ingmar Bergman...
The acting of Marlon Brando is one of the major reasons to watch this feature film. Brando for the first time in his career exhibits a physical performance that matches the emotional intensity of his earlier films. Paul like the lead male characters in A Streetcar Named Desire(1951) and On the Waterfront(1954) is someone who behaves in an animalistic fashion. 1972 saw Marlon Brando in a banner year with his performances in The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris. It was the last great performance of Marlon Brando as he hasn't done anything good(except Apocalypse Now) as this.
The actor shows plenty of emotion and human depth in his role. Some of the scenes with Maria Schneider are some of the most difficult things done by the actor. The scene where Paul lets out his anger and frustration out on his dead wife is a prime example of why Marlon Brando is a great actor. This sequence reveals some about the character of paul. Marlon does a convincing job during the erotic scenes.
The direction by Bernardo Bertolucci is fantastic. It seems that being an Assistent Director for Pier Paolo Pasolini had paid off in the making of Ultimo Tango a Parigi/Last Tango in Paris(1972). There are Pasolinian moments that are evident in many parts of the movie. Bertolucci spends more time creating a three dimensional chracter in Paul then he did on Jeanne. The erotic sequences are done by the director with finesse and style.
There is a contrast between Paul(Last Tango In Paris), and Vitto(The Godfather). First, Vitto is calm and cool while Paul is emotionally unstable. Second, Paul is sexually active while Vitto is sexually inactive. Third, Vitto concerns himself with the family structure and Paul is an individual. Finally, Paul is middle aged and somewhat in shape and Vitto is old and nearing death.
On the day of its release, Last Tango in Paris Stirred up an enormous uproar. This had nothing to do with the sex scenes itself but the content that propelled these scenes. It was banned in the director's native soil. One scene that caused a stir is the scene where Jeanne puts her hand in Paul's backside. Another scene that upset people is the infamous "Butteromy" Sequence.
Maria Schneider gives a couragous and emotionally difficult performance as Jeanne. This film had a negative effect on the actress as she later had a breakdown and spent some time in an asylum. In one interview, Maria Schneider discussed her displeasure with the director. She does a wonderful job in the scene where she describes her relationship with a cousin as a young girl. She does things that many well known actresses would be afraid to do.
The emotional level of the sex scenes are what caused such a scandal. The sex is not out of love but out of despair and the yearning for human contact. The "Butteromy" scene takes that notion to the extreme. What makes the sex scandalous is the fact that Paul and Jeanne treat it in a matter of fact way. It seems that Paul is Jeanne's sex toy as that's the way she views him.
Romance director, Catherine Breillit has an appearence in Last Tango in Paris(1972). The supporting cast are good in their perspective roles. Jean-Pierre Leaud is terrific in his portrayal of Jeanne's clueless beau. He would appear in another erotic themed feature called The Mother & the Whore(1973). Jean Pierre Leaud's character is the exact opposite of Paul.
Ultimo Tango a Parigi opens with images of a Francis Bacon painting. The characters are nothing but live paint figures of a Francis Bacon masterwork. The director was influenced by the works of the painter when he decided to do the film. The scene where Brando is crouched in a corner is a live reactment of one painting during the opening credits. Bacon's paintings like the feature look deep within the pits of the human soul.
Agnes Varda wrote some additional dialogue for this motion picture. Last Tango in Paris comes between two classics in The Conformist(1970), and 1900(1976). It is avilable in both a R and NC-17 version. The ending is ironic and tragic because Paul is on the verge of turning over a new leaf. The cinematography by Vittorio Storaro makes the camera another member of the cast.
* Marlon Brando improvised most his dialog for the film because he felt that some of the dialog wasn't to his liking.
* The idea of this movie grew from Bernardo Bertolucci's own sexual fantasies, stating that "he once dreamed of seeing a beautiful nameless woman on the street and having sex with her without ever knowing who she was".
* An alternate, but similar idea of this film was to revolve a passionate, homosexual relationship and ultimately scrapped with a famous French actor for whom the idea was conceived for backed out of the film.
* Argentine Tango composer Astor Piazzolla was going to write the music for the film and had actually submitted demos to director Bernardo Bertolucci. Bertolucci instead chose famed jazz musician Gato Barbieri as the film's composer because he felt that his saxophone playing would give the film a more rich and sultry feel for the film.
* Almost ten years after its original release, United Artists re-released the film in 1982 with an R-Rating and not the infamous X rating it had obtained in 1972. The film was only a couple of minutes shorter than the preferred Director's cut.
* The original screening version of the film was over four hours long.
* After the film's release in Europe, Bernardo Bertolucci, 'Alberto Grimaldi' , Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider were all indicted by a court in Bologna, Italy for making the film under the term "ultalitarian pornography". They were all acquitted of the charge shortly thereafter with Bertolucci losing his civil rights (including his right to vote) for five years.
* 'Jean-Pierre Lèaud' had so much respect for Marlon Brando that he was afraid to meet him. That's why he shot all his scenes on Saturdays, when Brando refused to work. Like that, the two never met in the entire making of the film.
* The story Paul tells Jeanne about his mother, about how she taught him to appreciate nature, which he illustrates with his reminiscence of his dog Dutchy hunting rabbits in a mustard field, is real, based on Brando's own recollections of his past.
* When Brando arrived for the first day of shooting, he had on makeup "two centimeters thick" according to Bertolucci. Brando, who had applied his own makeup, didn't understand the nautral, low-light conditions cinematographer Vittorio Storaro was going to work with to get the look of the film. Bertolucci had to remove much of the makeup from Brando's face with a handkerchief.
* When informed that director Ingmar Bergman had said that the film only made sense if it were about two homosexuals, Bertolucci responded that he accepted all criticisms of his film as valid.
* When asked what the movie was about during his 1979 PLAYBOY Magazine interview, Brando responded, "Bernardo Bertolucci's analysis."
* Jean-Louis Trintignant and Dominique Sanda were both approached for the leading roles.
* According to 'Maria Schneider' , the famous "butter scene" was never in the script and improvised at the last minute by Marlon Brando and Bernardo Bertolucci without consulting her. Though the sodomy act was faked, her real tears in the film clearly testify her state of shock.
* When Paul puts on the Colonel's kepi (the French military hat that had belonged to Jeanne's father) and says to her, "How do you like your hero? Over easy or sunny side up?" Brando - the author of most of the film's English dialog - is using egg imagery because the gold braid on an officer's hat is referred to as "scrambled eggs" in the U.S. military. Brando attended Shattuck Military Academy (from which he was booted out) and failed his physical for the U.S. Army during World War Two due to a bum knee hurt playing high school football.
* According to Maria Schneider, Marlon Brando's lines were routinely taped to her naked body because of his dyslexia and reluctance to memorize his dialog
* The movie's line "Go, get the butter." was voted as the #67 of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere in 2007.
* While filming, Bernardo Bertolucci tried to explain the point of the film to Marlon Brando, suggesting that his character was Bertolucci's "manhood" and that Maria Schneider's character was his "dream girl". Brando later maintained that he had absolutely no idea of what Bertolucci was suggesting or even talking about.
* According to his autobiography "Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me", the reason why Marlon Brando refused to do a full frontal nude scene was because his "penis shrank to the size of a peanut on set".
* In protest against the film only receiving a minor cinema cut in the UK, a private prosecution was brought against United Artists in January 1974 by 69 year old Edward Shackleton, a Salvation Army member and leading member of the executive committee of the pro-censorship Festival Of Light party. Although the case went as far as the Old Bailey it collapsed when it was ruled that the Obscene Publications Act did not, at that time, apply to films.