The Conformist Bernardo Bertolucci

The Conformist is by far the most opulent film ever directed by a communist. The plot, from an Alberto Moravia novel, is actually rather complex; it’s about a guilt-ridden man (Jean-Louis Trintingnant) running from an episode in his childhood by becoming the ultimate cog in the social order — in this case an Italian fascist spy. But though there are extremely complicated machinations, in which our conformist gets married to a twinkie (Stefania Sandrelli), is sent on his honeymoon to do some spying and falls in love with the daughter (Dominique Sanda) of the dissident he’s pumping for info, you’ll hardly notice any of it. That’s because Bernardo Bertolucci directs like there’s nobody actually in the room; he and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro create such jaw-dropping images with canted angles, tracking and crane shots that you’re likely to forget the plot and just sit gasping for two hours. There are problems with this, of course. One wishes that the images and text could be harmonious — the themes get swallowed up by the imagery, while the film loses pace because of the amorphous flow of the images. But who cares? The pictures are so damn pretty that I’m not going to split hairs about what might have been. This is a highly influential film that presages the luxuriant auteurism of the ’70s (it no doubt led Francis Coppola to poach the cinematographer for Apocalypse Now) and includes a sequence that was deleted from the theatrical release. If you haven’t seen it, prepare to have your eyes refinished. Extras include three featurettes with Bertolucci and Storaro explaining the casting, the shooting and the release itself. (Paramount)