Last Tango in Paris (1972): Bernardo Bertolucci's romantic drama starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider

A treatise on human alienation and requiem for unrequited love

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews 

last tango in paris, starring marlon brando, maria schneider, directed by bernardo bertolucci
Last Tango in Paris (1972) By Bernardo Bertolucci
Our Rating: 9.0
IMDb Ratings: 7.1
Genre: Drama | Romance
CastMarlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Maria Michi
Country: France | Italy
Language: English | French
Runtime: 136 min
ColorColor (Technicolor)

Summary: A young Parisian woman begins a sordid affair with a middle-aged American businessman who lays out ground rules that their clandestine relationship will be based only on sex.

Last Tango in Paris, directed by Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertoluccisimultaneously mocks and mourns the human yearning for love and companionship. Last Tango in Paris is a requiem for unrequited love,  a testament to the proclivity of humans to surrogate love with lust when trapped in a maelstrom of despondence, chagrin, and guilt. Bertolucci's purpose in Last Tango in Paris is not to glorify carnality as a virtue or to scorn it as a vice, but is to use it as an instrument to authenticate the veritable existence of a dark, ugly, and bestial side of humanity, which is so often suppressed and hypocritically denied in most works that deal with the subject. Bertolucci's penchant for art is limitless and he uses it to full effect in order to give Last Tango in Paris an aesthetic feel while simultaneously catering to the movie's explorative, earthy, and unconventionally bold motifs. In Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci uses his characters uncannily as a medium to foray into unexplored realms of human psyche while unflinchingly projecting them as objects of desire, disgust and depravity. 

Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris
Bertolucci pushes Brando and Schneider to a limit where they were forced to surrender themselves to the director's wishes. About the sodomy scene depicted in Last Tango in Paris, Schneider confessed that it was not revealed to her until just before it was filmed and that she felt humiliated and raped, both by Brando and by Bertolucci. She said, "Even though what Marlon was doing wasn't real, I was crying real tears. Even Marlon with his charisma and class, felt a bit violated, exploited a little in this film. He rejected it for years. And me, I felt it doubly." Both Bertolucci and the cinematographer have denied it vociferously. As for Schneider she paid the price for living in a pre-MeToo age where she never really got a chance to put up a strong fight against powerful men. Last Tango in Paris, however, not only fetched her international recognition but also went on to become her signature, as she struggled for the rest of her career to break out of the image of a femme fataleRenowned film critic Pauline Kael bestowed the film with the most ecstatic endorsement of her career, writing, "Tango has altered the face of an art form. This is a movie people will be arguing about for as long as there are movies." American director Robert Altman expressed unqualified praise: "I walked out of the screening and said to myself, 'How dare I make another film?' My personal and artistic life will never be the same." Eminent critic Roger Ebert has added the film to his "Great Movies" collection. Unfortunately, at the time of its release  Last Tango in Paris  was banned in many countries being branded with the taboo of obscenity. 

Marlon Brando and Mary Schneider as Paul and Jeanne, Directed By Bernardo Bertolucci
A Still from Last Tango in Paris
Last Tango in Paris presents an episode in the lives of two loners residing in Paris: Paul, a recently widowed, middle-aged American businessman, and Jeanne, a young, voluptuous, soon-to-be-married Parisian girl. The two accidentally meet up in an empty apartment available for rent, and a steamy affair ensues between the two on strictly anonymous basis. Paul is very discreet about his identity and whereabouts and even cajoles Jeanne to religiously follow the protocol. Paul sees Jeanne as a carnal surrogate for his deceased wife, while Jeanne finds in Paul a lover which her fiancé could never become. The two continue to meet and serve each other at regular intervals while also going about their regular business. Their sexually charged up affair, despite a disconnect at the emotional level, satiates them both beyond expectations, and resonates to the viewer an ineffable sense of frenzy and euphoria that holds him in a vice-like grip for the entire length of the movie. The overly-dramatic, anti-climactic ending of  Last Tango in Paris , which has been repeatedly snubbed by critics, manages to pack a punch stronger than most modern-day gimmicks. 

Marlon Brando as Paul in Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Marlon Brando in Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris
Marlon Brando gives an inciteful, poignant, tour de force performance as the reclusive widower. Many people called Brando a chameleon, but I would call him a chameleon who hated his camouflage; a prodigy who detested his talent; a narcissist who abhorred himself for being a mortal. Brando as Paul is a cross between a sadist and a masochist. He uses every ounce of his talent to conjure up his menacing alter-ego. Driven by guilt and chagrin, Paul's sociopathic self is a nightmare for those around him. Roger Ebert wrote about Brando's performance: "It's a movie that exists so resolutely on the level of emotion, indeed, that possibly only Marlon Brando, of all living actors, could have played its lead. Who else can act so brutally and imply such vulnerability and need?" The scene in which Paul confronts the dead body of his wife, who has committed suicide, is probably the most powerful scene ever filmed in cinema. It not only depicts the complexities associated with Paul's character but also highlights the dichotomy he suffered owing to his dual emotions of rage and grief. Then there is the final Tango sequence in which Brando takes his art to a completely different level altogether. 

Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris
Schneider is innocent, charming, voluptuous and pitiful in her portrayal of Jeanne, a Parisian girl whose life is devoid of true love. Schneider, being fully aware of her limitations as an actor, incredibly manages to give a performance that is singular and effective enough not to be adumbrated by Brando's sublime, over-the-top portrayal. The cinematography of  Last Tango in Paris is vivid, elaborative, and expressive and is well complemented by the movie's sensuously evocative background score. Last Tango in Paris is a profoundly disturbing treatise on human alienation. The movie is a must watch for cineastes worldwide, but it can only be savoured by eschewing bigotry, prejudice, and conservatism. 

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Last Tango in Paris Trailer

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  1. Beautifully composed... highly nostalgic!

  2. Thanks mate...stay tuned to similar bouts of nostalgia . Btw, don`t forget to reveal your identity next time round!

  3. As you said , the movie is a disturbing one, but also a essential one. One of Marlon Brando's best performance. The scene in which Paul confronts the dead body of his wife, who has committed suicide, is probably the most powerful scene ever filmed in cinema. A wonderfully compiled review too. Keep up the good work.

    1. It's the motivation provided by cinephiles like yourself that keeps me going. Thanks for sharing your valuable opinion.

  4. Excellent review. Your analysis has certainly now taken the film to greater heights. Keep em coming. Do take a minute and let me know what you think about my site.

    1. Thanks Hari for those kind words! I will surely do that and get back to you soon. Thanks for showing interest in A Potpourri of Vestiges.


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