the conformist

Image: Zachary DeBottis
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By JOÃO LANARI BO*

Commentary on the film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

Fascism: of the words that the political culture of the XNUMXth century forged, this is undoubtedly one of the most forceful, full of meanings and acoustically powerful. The etymology confirms the forcefulness: the term is derived from the Latin faces, bundle of sticks tied around an axe, symbol of the power given to magistrates in ancient Rome to flagellate and behead disobedient citizens.

Today, we associate fascism with the political philosophy that exalts the nation and race above the individual and that ultimately advocates autocratic, centralized governments led by dictators prone to the forcible suppression of opposition. In the 1919st century, the word (and the concept) were updated in the digital environment of social networks, and also began to designate behaviors and actions that are all around us: its political use, which gained institutional expression with Mussolini and his group back in the day XNUMX, in Italy, returned with full force.

Cinema, in particular the Italian one, deftly ventured into the meanders of the fascist psyche, especially in the productive years from 1950 to 70, when it was, in the words of Martin Scorsese, one of the best, if not the best, cinema in the world. the conformist, which Bernardo Bertolucci made in 1970, is one of the jewels of this cinematography: impressive compositions of light, shadow and diagonal lines, combined with an exuberant production design that recreates the architecture and decorative arts of fascist Italy, result in a connection between the mentality that produced this world and the interiority of the character that inhabits it, the conformist. A man who wanted to be an anonymous and perfect fascist: to emphasize this mental environment, it is necessary to contain it in singularly fascist spaces, constructed by exemplary fascist compositions.

Based on the 1951 book by Alberto Moravia, the conformist it's almost a gangster movie – Orson Welles used to say that fascism was gangsterism in politics. Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant, in one of his best roles), is the anchor who narrates events, past and future, as in a stream of consciousness. In flashbacks chronologically erratic, big jumps from one scene to another, many of them unrealistic or dreamlike, we redo the formation of the fascist character that distinguishes the character.

While still a pre-teen, he had a traumatic encounter with the family driver, Lino (Pierre Clementi), who seduced him and ended up being killed by Marcelo's hands: guilt and disgust. A timely and emotionally empty marriage to Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) ensues, until she is tasked with killing her former mentor, Professor Quadri (Enzo Tarascio).

The Professor, who lives in exile in Paris, was his advisor in the thesis he wrote on Plato's allegory of the cave – prisoners who knew only the shadows on the wall, shadows that are the true version of reality. The mention of the thesis by the Professor gives Vittorio Storaro the opportunity to produce one of the best photographic moments of the film – which is, of course, full of rigorous and unexpected framing, reflections and saturated tones, especially blues and reds, capturing the insecurity and terror that settle in the souls of passers-by.

Marcello becomes obsessed with Quadri's wife, Anna (Dominique Sanda): the exact details of the mission only slowly reveal themselves, causing Marcello unhappiness. His consciousness is spatial: we travel between the vast voids of fascist-modernist buildings, an open-air psychiatric hospital where his father is interned, and a ballroom crowded with Parisian dancers, where his wife dances cheek to cheek with her lover.

All this imaginary is punctuated by Bernardo Bertolucci's vision, at the same time Freudian and Marxist: fascism is the historical matrix of libidinal and violent impulses, atomized in the practice of individuals who exercise it, institutionally or not, like Marcello – even though he has passed life hiding identity behind the anodyne facade of a perfect conformist, behaving in the least aberrant way possible, in a word, normal.

For the Brazilian public, a special moment: a brief and fleeting appearance by Joel Barcelos, emblematic actor of Cinema Novo, in Professor Quadri's group of pupils. the conformist is a film about the passage of time and the power of destiny, but, as its director, does not converge to a positive catharsis, as in Greek tragedies: instead of fate, Marcello's historical unconscious stands out. Towards the end, he looks at his young daughter, then enters the devastated Rome he helped create.

*João Lanari Bo Professor of Cinema at the Faculty of Communication at the University of Brasilia (UnB).

Reference


the conformist
Italy\France\Germany, 1970, 107 minutes
Directed by: Bernardo Bertolucci
Screenplay: Alberto Moravia, Bernardo Bertolucci
Photography: Vittorio Storaro
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Pierre Clementi, Stefania Sandrelli, Enzo Tarascio, Dominique Sanda.

Available in stock on the MUBI platform, in a restored copy

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