1971, R, 115 min. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Dominique Sanda, Pierre Clementi, Pasquale Fortunato.
REVIEWED By Nick Barbaro, Thu., March 1, 2001
Marcello Clerici is the perfect Fascist, because all he's ever wanted to be (ever since a childhood incident that he can't quite remember) is normal and safe. He's got a job in Mussolini's secret service, a pretty wife, and impeccable social skills. And he's so suave and reserved that no one can tell that anything is wrong. When he's assigned to a murder in Paris the victim is a strident anti-Fascist who happens to be an old mentor things start to unravel. Not that the old professor is a problem he's an intellectual, a weakling, and – impotent – but his wife turns out to have passion enough for the two of them. Clerici wants her; she wants Clerici's wife and a piece of him as well. (This is the role that made Dominique Sanda's career, and it's all that and more.) This is not good. Questions are asked. Memories are probed. Certain thoughts cannot be denied. And yet, that description only barely scratches the surface of this beautiful, complex, massively layered adaptation of the Alberto Moravia novel. Amazingly, though The Conformist looks as opulent as some of his later mega-epics, Bertolucci brought the film in for only $750,000; most of the staggering, monumental sets are examples of surviving Fascist architecture much of it in civic buildings. And, of course, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro is a god.