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Last Tango in Paris(1972)
A middle-aged American, whose wife has just committed suicide, meets a young French girl when they both view an apartment in Paris at the same time. They begin a strange, anonymous sexual relationship in the empty apartment, agreeing not to divulge any personal information to each other.
For more about Last Tango in Paris and the Last Tango in Paris Blu-ray release, see Last Tango in Paris Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on February 27, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Maria Michi, Giovanna Galletti, Catherine Allegret, Catherine Breillat
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
» See full cast & crew
Last Tango in Paris Blu-ray Review
One of the most controversial films of the ‘70s gets a naked Blu-ray release.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, February 27, 2011
Roger Ebert put it best in his retrospective 1995 review, with the statement that writer/director Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris "was the banner for a revolution that never happened." The failed revolution in question? The proliferation of erotic films made for and by adults, films that would maturely deal with human sexuality in all its complicated permutations and rely on dramatic depth and emotional honesty rather than mere titillation. At the time of its release, the film was sharply divisive, prompting mass walkouts and "vomiting by well-dressed wives" at its first New York screening—according to the Village Voice—but also garnering rapturous praise from critics like Pauline Kael, who hailed Last Tango as what "may turn out to be the most liberating movie ever made." Kael's review—perhaps the most widely read in the history of cinema criticism—posited the film as a "movie breakthrough" that "altered the face of an art form." She even went so far as to compare Last Tango's October 14, 1972 premiere to the riot-inducing 1913 debut of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, the ballet that upset the classical world and opened the floodgates for the incoming wave of musical modernism. And yet, the movie produced no similar wave of grown-up cinematic erotica.
The reasons for this are varied—studio wariness, a lack of directors willing to tread in Bertolucci's footsteps, and an international audience unready for frank depictions of sexuality—but despite the film's failure to spark a revolution, Last Tango remains a powerful work of art. It was also partially inspired by art, specifically the twisted, emotionally bleak paintings of Francis Bacon. During the film's opening credit sequence, we're shown two of Bacon's pieces, misshapen portraits of a man reclining half-naked on a couch and a woman sitting cross-legged on a chair. These malformed figures represent the film's two main characters, who, in their own ways, are just as grotesque. Marlon Brando, shortly after his career- rejuvenating turn in The Godfather, plays Paul, a 45-year-old American in Paris whose wife has recently committed suicide—for reasons that are not entirely clear at first, giving the film a backbone of mystery. While viewing an apartment both are interested in renting, Paul meets Jeanne (Maria Schneider), an ingénue tired of acting as muse for her narcissistic filmmaker fiancé. They're alone together as they check the place out, making awkward small talk, and the unease is palpable. Suddenly, Paul kisses her, rips off her underwear, and has his way with her right there on the bare floor. It's not so much a rape—it's clearly consensual—as it is a sudden explosion of pent-up sexual energy.
Paul rents the apartment, where the two unlikely lovers agree to rendezvous every day, but he places one condition on their nascent affair: "I don't wanna know your name…I don't wanna know anything about you. You and I are going to meet here without knowing anything that goes on outside." Much like the increasingly squalid room shared by the enflamed lovers of Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses, the apartment becomes a sexual haven from the outside world. When Paul and Jeanne are there, it's as if nothing else exists. They're two souls, disembodied from their names and histories, and each finds some kind of release, if not exactly pleasure, in this carnal arrangement.
From our perspective—and from Bertolucci's—none of the sex in the film is simply eroticism for the sake of eroticism, and most would agree, I think, that this immediately disqualifies Last Tango from being generalized as "pornography." Rather, Paul and Jeanne's sexual expressions are exterior manifestations of their characters' inner lives. Paul is seeking to obliterate his mourning and anger through debasement, the sexual equivalent of self-harm, and Jeanne finds in him someone who is wholly transfixed upon her, as opposed to her fiancé, who's really only interested in making "cinema" out of their life together. Despite the film's reputation for explicit sexuality, Last Tango is more transgressive than it is titillating, depicting onscreen activities that are perhaps controversial—the MPAA still would have a field-day with this one, even today—but hardly arousing. With the exception of a single early scene in which Paul and Jeanne try to bring each other to climax without touching one another, most of their encounters are cold, masochistic, and progressively more degrading. The infamous butter-assisted sodomy scene—in which Paul forces himself on Jeanne and commands her to recite a kind of catechism—has become a perpetual punchline in the years since the film's release, but it remains powerfully disturbing and uncomfortable to watch. As in Lars von Trier's Antichrist, which was undoubtedly influenced by Last Tango, this is sex as dangerous psychotherapy.
Of course, the film is more than just a series of cathartic copulations. Paul and Jeanne's verbal foreplay and confessional pillowtalk is just as revealing —the dialogue is sophisticated, almost literary—and Bertolucci occasionally follows the two separately through the outside world. We see Jeanne cavorting with her fiancé, who always has a camera trained on her, and share in an intimate, surprisingly tender encounter between Paul and his dead wife's lover (Massimo Gerotti), their rivalry set aside in favor of shared grief. The film's pivotal moment is a wrenching monologue that Paul delivers over his wife's body, laid out for viewing. His initial angry, hate-filled invectives give way to self-loathing, pity, and finally love—Bertolucci encapsulates the entire grieving process in this single scene. It's here, rather than in his anonymous sex with Jeanne, that Paul finds real release. It's also a showpiece for Brando's dramatic abilities. Sure, he pasted his lines throughout the set instead of memorizing them, but this leads to a performance that's spontaneous, not lazy, and you can also tell a good deal of improvisation was involved. Like his later role as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, Brando embodies a hulking, uber-masculine figure who has retreated wholly into his own psyche; with his shaggy grey mane and worn-out overcoat, he looks like a mangy, particularly decadent lion. Less has been written about Maria Schneider as Jeanne, but at only 20 years old she held her own against Brando's scene-stealing magnetism in a part that required significant bravery and openness. Schneider died earlier this month, at 58, but she's immortalized here. Although Pauline Kael was wrong in predicting Last Tango as a revolutionary cinematic force, she was clearly right when she claimed that "this is a movie people will be arguing about, I think, for as long as there are movies."
Last Tango in Paris Blu-ray, Video Quality
Last Tango in Paris debuts on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that's entirely natural and much better than I had expected. To start, the print itself is in excellent condition, with only a few scattered specks but no major debris, scratches, or staining. The film's grain structure has been left untouched—there's not a trace of any over-zealous noise reduction here—and the image is unmodified by any edge enhancement, boosting, or other forms of digital tinkering. The picture is somewhat soft at times, but I suspect this is due to the way the film was shot, and not any default in the transfer process. That said, clarity gets a major improvement over SDVD releases, especially in the scenes that take place outside the apartment, which tend to be brighter and sharper. Throughout, the film's uterine color palette—all warm reds and pinks and salmons—is richly represented, black levels are adequately deep, and skin tones are natural. (Brando's face does veer towards orange on occasion, but apparently he did all of his own make-up without fully understanding how cinematographer Vittorio Storaro was going to light the scenes.) Aside from some light noise, the disc is free from any significant compression issues. I'm very pleased with how this transfer turned out.
Last Tango in Paris Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Rather than try to expand the film's original elements into a 5.1 mix, MGM has wisely opted to stick with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track. This is, after all, a film that's almost entirely driven by dialogue and score, with very little effects or ambience. (There aren't many noises in an empty apartment.) The only oddity that I noticed is that there are a few instances where the volume of the score and vocals seems to fluctuate slightly within a scene. Otherwise, I have no concerns about this mix at all—there are no hisses, crackles, drop-outs, or other audio hiccups. Gato Barbieri's music sounds wonderful and full—it's a beautiful score—and the dialogue is always comprehensible. (If not always clean. There's some minor muffling occasionally, but this seems mostly due to the nature of on-location recording.) The disc also includes mono Dolby Digital tracks in French, Spanish, German, and Catalan, as well as subtitles in a variety of languages.
Last Tango in Paris Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, the sole supplement on the disc is the film's theatrical trailer (1080p, 1:32).
Last Tango in Paris Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Last Tango in Paris remains a challenging and controversial psychosexual drama even nearly forty years after its release. It's certainly not for everyone—the prudish or easily offended need not apply—but audiences open to the sexually frank subject matter will likely be moved by acting-titan Marlon Brando's hungry, animalistic performance. I can't help wishing this disc had been filled out with some retrospective bonus features, but at least the high definition transfer and lossless audio track are true to source. Highly recommended!
Last Tango in Paris Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Last Tango in Paris, Moonstruck, Rain Man Blu-ray Detailed - February 9, 2011
MGM Home Entertainment has revealed the release details for a trio of catalog releases that it will release on February 15: Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972), Moonstruck (Norman Jewison, 1987) and Rain Man (Barry Levinson, 1988). The latter two will ...
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