This story opens in 1938 in Rome, where Marcello has just taken a job working for Mussollini and is courting a beautiful young woman who will make him even more of a conformist. Marcello is going to Paris on his honeymoon and his bosses have an assignment for him there. Look up an old professor who fled Italy when the fascists came into power. At the border of Italy and France, where Marcello and his bride have to change trains, his bosses give him a gun with a silencer. In a flashback to 1917, we learn why sex and violence are linked in Marcello's mind.
With The Conformist, Bernardo Bertolucci delivered one of his signature masterworks and joined the ranks of world-class directors. Based on the acclaimed novel by Alberto Moravia (who greatly admired Bertolucci's adaptation), this milestone of cinematic style concerns one of Bertolucci's dominant themes--the duality of sexual and political conflict--in telling the story of Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a 30-year-old Italian haunted by the memory of a sexually traumatic childhood experience. As an adult with repressed homosexual desires, Marcello wants nothing more than to conform to the upper-crust expectations of Italian society, so he marries the dim-witted, petit-bourgeois Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli), and willfully joins the Italian Fascist movement, traveling from Rome to Paris with an assignment to assassinate his former academic mentor, Prof. Quadri (Enzo Tarascio). As he grows attracted to Quadri's bisexual wife Anna (Dominique Sanda), who is in turn attracted to Giulia, Marcello's path of duplicity parallels that of Mussolini's inevitable downfall. He's on an irreversible course of self-destruction, on which his troubled past and morally corrupted present will collide in a soul-crushing heap of personal contradictions.
While the psychosexual aspects of Bertolucci's Oscar®-nominated screenplay remain dramatically compelling, The Conformist is now better known as a dazzling stylistic breakthrough, with sweeping camera moves, oblique angles, and innovative editing brilliantly applied to Bertolucci's rich themes of internalized conflict. In close collaboration with master cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Bertolucci crafted one of the greatest films of the 1970s, offered here with its richly relevant "Dance of the Blind" scene fully intact. This five-minute scene was cut from the original American release, then restored for the film's 1994 re-release. It's a welcome enhancement of the film's suspenseful historical context, which is fully explored in three bonus featurettes in which Bertolucci and Storaro discuss the story, production, and innovative style of The Conformist in fascinating detail. For serious collectors of important films, The Conformist is absolutely essential. --Jeff Shannon