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Last Tango in Paris

One of Bernardo Bertolucci’s most complex and satisfying films, Last Tango has survived the controversy that surrounded its initial release in 1972. Ironically for a work renowned for its explicit treatment of sexuality, Bertolucci’s formally ambitious and psychologically astute film is more concerned with what separates its protagonists than the ties that bind. The central character, Paul (Marlon Brando), is a tormented American who lives in Paris and begins to meet a young bourgeois woman (Maria Schneider) for anonymous sex in an empty apartment. Bacon’s paintings are a major influence on the film, whose opening credits sequence features two of the artist’s 1964 portraits. As Robert Phillip Kolker notes in his book Bernardo Bertolucci (British Film Institute, 1985): ‘With full understanding of the difference between painting and cinema, Bertolucci gets as close as he can to the recreation of a Bacon canvasothrough composition, through the use of colour, through the positioning of his characters’ bodies within the frame. By using mirrors and glass he attempt to suggest the distortions of Bacon’s figures, the impression of the human body dissolving into a painful, featureless mass. In short, he goes as far as he can in creating cinematic equivalents to the form and meaning of Bacon’s work, the psycho-sexual pain of existence within the enclosures of the contemporary world; the expression of imminent dissolution under the pressure of that pain.’
Italy-France, 1972. Colour. 129 mins.

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