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on June 29, 2006
What kind of man gets himself in such a pickle that --- on his honeymoon --- he's given a gun and asked to kill a professor he's always admired?

That is the question presented to us at the beginning of "The Conformist," as Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) sits in a Paris hotel room, waiting for the call that will tell him it's time to kill the professor. If you love movies, the answer --- told in a series of flashbacks, and, on occasion, flashbacks within flashbacks --- will make for one of the most rewarding cinematic experiences of your life.

Let's get the praise out of the way right off. Bernardo Bertolucci --- known to most moviegoers for his Oscar-winning "The Last Emperor" and his down-and-dirty "Last Tango in Paris" --- made "The Conformist" at 29. It is a young man's film, drenched in ambition. It is also Bertolucci's greatest film. Indeed, it is one of the ten greatest films I've ever seen.

My reasons?

First, "The Conformist" is beautiful in the extreme. The cinematographer was the great Vittorio Storaro, and his color palette is so exquisite that Francis Ford Coppola watched this film over and over before making "The Godfather" --- and then hired Storaro to shoot "Apocalypse Now." The production designer was Ferdinando Scarfiotti, whose credits include "Death in Venice" and "Scarface." And Georges Delerue, who did the scores for "Jules and Jim" and "Platoon", composed the music.

Then there is the acting. Trintignant is one of the most familiar faces in French cinema; this is the performance of his life. But mostly, I want to praise Dominique Sanda, then just 22 years old and making only her third movie. She plays the professor's wife, and she unfailingly strikes a remarkable balance --- on one hand, she's the loyal spouse, on another, she's a bi-sexual flirt, and on yet a third, she's the only character in the story who senses the tragedy that lies ahead.

And, finally, there is the story, adapted from the novel by Alberto Moravia, one of Italy's most seductive novelists. Sex is almost a character for Moravia, and it certainly is here --- as the title suggests, Clerici's greatest desire is to be normal, to be one of the faceless masses, to conform.

That's not so easily done in Italy in 1936. Mussolini has brought down the Fascist boot; progressives have fled the country. So Clerici takes a rich, vapid wife. He makes his accommodation with the government. And with that --- he thinks --- he's safe.

But there are no hiding places in life --- and certainly not in a dictatorship of madmen. And then there is the question of the past: How do you acquire a "normal" life if you never had one before? As we flash back, we see that Clerici's privileged childhood was anything but normal. His mother awoke at noon, looking for her first shot of the day. He was raised by nannies. And then there was the encounter with the chauffeur...

What Bertolucci is exploring here is the equation of politics with sex. In a film financed by an American studio, that equation would be explicit and vulgar. Here, every connection is made through imagery and suggestion. Your jaw will drop at scene after scene, but you'll be on the edge of your seat during one in particular --- an evening at a Parisian dance hall when Sanda dances with Clerici's wife. It's a breathtaking seduction, hotter in some ways than sex itself.

Why does Clerici freeze when he's given a gun? Can he kill the professor? What happens to Sanda? And, jumping ahead, what does the Fascist's defeat mean for Clerici? Bertolucci's screenplay is brilliant on these key questions; you are always leaning in, thinking it through, putting the puzzle together. And, of course, you are invited to imagine --- as we always do in great films --- how would I handle this? What would I do if I were Clerici?

And now I must share some tragic news: "The Conformist" is not available on DVD. There's only a VHS. The consolation: Storaro oversaw the transfer. Still, the difficulty of seeing this remarkable film is an injustice that somebody really ought to fix.

For those too frustrated to rent or acquire a VHS tape of "The Conversation," let me recommend "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis", also starring Dominique Sanda, made a year later and exploring some of the same themes. Or you could read Alberto Moravia's novel. But be warned: This is that rare case --- a movie so much better than the book that reading it is a disappointment.
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on December 16, 2014
[This review pertains to the 2014 US Blu Ray edition only.]

I love this film. I have previously owned it on VHS and DVD and I've watched it at least 50 times. I couldn't wait for Blu Ray and it does not disappoint. To be sure, the original material is subject to the limits of production that existed at the time it was made. Much of the movie is shot in softer focus than we are accustomed to these days. The titles still suffer from some color bleed and the soundtrack is still a bit tinny. But this is an art house movie. No one is ever going to underwrite a complete Blu Ray remaster and overhaul.

Instead, you can expect a HD transfer of a pristine print, giving you access to more of the cinematography, as it was intended for the big screen. This turns out to be very important, since this is universally acknowledged to be a masterpiece of cinematography. The images acquire a remarkable depth of field, and I found myself noticing details I'd never seen before. I found the extent to which this change alone amplified the film's drama and pathos quite remarkable.

The translation is also very, very good. Previous subs and dubs have failed to capture the literary nuance of the script, adapted from Alberto Moravia's masterpiece of the same name. Somehow the English dub here has been improved dramatically over it's incarnation in DVD, and a LOT more of the book comes through. It's not clear to me exactly what they did to fix it. The voices sound identical, and the memorable lines have been translated in the same way, but the speech fits the action much, MUCH better than the DVD sub did. Watching the English dub with Italian subtitles (and vice versa) gives access to much more of the Italian script than was possible with previous editions. One problem: the dub was missing from several scenes on my copy. I don't really care, but it is a little disappointing, mostly because the new dub is unusually good.

The Blu Ray edition also eliminates the abrupt between-scene cuts that featured prominently in older editions. I always found these jarring, and it's nice to learn that they were artifacts of a bad edit, and not a sour note by Mr. Bertolucci.
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on December 18, 2006
Break out the brass section, the DVD has arrived. This landmark film like fine wine, now that it has been remastered by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, and presented with color intact in widescreen in Italian and French, emerges as a true classic. The dispicable VHS dubbed panned & scanned version that we have been watching for over 20 years can be "retired". Bernardo Bertolucci's truth is once again on display. This release sparkles with clarity, and we can thrill to the carefully presented imagery and the powerful symbolism.

Bertolucci, under 30 when he directed CONFORMIST, has become a wonderfully gifted and powerful force in cinema; and never more so than in this fledging effort. He must have storyboarded every moment. The film is tighter than a Rolex; no wasted seconds or icons. In this film he began to explore the vistas of sensuality and sexuality that only two short years later would blossom into THE LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972); and then would spill out all over the lens and screen in his latest effort, THE DREAMERS (2003).

Alberto Moravia wrote the original novel at over 300 pages. Bertolucci did a marvelous job of extracting the essence of the protagonist, Marcello Clerici, and constructing a fabulous film, complex, lyrical yet brutal, beautiful yet shocking, shallow one moment and lethal the next, full of madness, repressed homosexuality, religious hypocracy, petty politicos, blind people, assassins, victims, and a never ending line of characters being cajoled or abused or eliminated or shamed or extolled. This is the Italy of the late 30's and early 40's, when the bald bulldog, Mussolini, strutted in the shadow of Hitler, dreaming of a new Roman Empire --about ordinary citizens who either resisted the Fascists or joined them. The ones who "resisted" had to be hunted down and eliminated by the ones who "accepted" Fascista "normalcy".

This is a film that needs to be seen more than once. The film opens mid-thrid act, and speeds its entirity in flashback, bringing us up to speed. Just one viewing leaves even the hardiest film buff limp and confused. Somewhere during the 2nd or 3rd viewing, Bertolucci's motives make themselves accessible and evident.

Jean-Louis Trintignant is the perfect Clerici, a successful professor, a loner, who wants to bet married and become a member of the Brown Shirts in order to "fit in"; and along the way we discover the dark side of his nature, confirming his cowardice and true nature. Stefania Sandrelli was very lovely as Guila, the young wife. But the film was stolen by the smoldering sexuality of Dominque Sanda, striking a Marlene Dietrich pose in tight pants, with her hands in her pockets, and a cigarette dangling out of one corner of her mouth. She is a woman of huge appetites and dark secrets.
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on April 7, 2006
I just want to add my voice to those asking - pleading - for The Conformist to be released in a subtitled version on DVD. I first saw The Conformist when it was released about 35 years ago, and have had the good fortune to see it a few times since. (At the risk of rubbing salt in the wound of reviewer James Luckard, I did get to see it when it was at the Nuart in L.A. two years ago.) This film is just absolutely stunning in every way - Jean-Louis Trintignant is of course a great actor, but the thing I find so overwhelming with this film is the way the story, the acting, the cinematography, the lighting, the music, everything just comes together so well.
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on November 26, 2002
I agree that The Conformist should be released on DVD. I also agree with the reviewer who said that The Conformist is undoubtedly Bertolucci's finest film and perhaps his only true masterwork. However, the dubbing is atrocious--and a similar problem exists with Truffaut's Day for Night--another film that is unavailable on DVD and which has previously been available only in a dubbed version. Since I have seen The Conformist in the theater in the original language, I am confident that they could--with a little effort--release The Conformist in Italian. The Conformist is a truly great film--with stunning cinematography. Bertolucci explores the question of why an intelligent thinker would care to become a fascist. The answer is complex, startling and not ever comforting. It's truly a shame that it has not yet been released on DVD; but it would be a travesty to release it on DVD as a dubbed version (as if voice is not part of acting.)
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on January 24, 2002
This is probably my favorite film. A bit obscure, but unforgetable. As stated in other reviews it's a visual feast. Jean-Louis Trintignant is excellent, but I think that Dominique Sanda and the Director Bertoluchi(?) steal the show. The scenes in the forest and at the dance hall will forever stick in my mind.
If I could pick one film to have on DVD it would be this one.
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on July 11, 2015
Classic film with such incredible art direction, cinematography and performances especially by the female leads. It really does highlight and question the morality and fascism of the time through the characters decisions, directions, interactions and beliefs. The film is mesmerizing and the arc of the story completes with its ending in several key scenes that stay with you forever.

Some films just leave images stuck in your mind this is one of them, a great film please watch!
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on November 19, 2002
I was shown this film in cinema class when I was 17, and then only saw it again recently, 14 years later. It's still wonderful, and IMO Bertolucci's only universally great film. I don't fault Criterion for not including it in their releases, it's probably a rights issue as it normally is (i.e. they had but lost the rights to Kwaidan - A for effort though). Folks like Criterion and Anchor Bay can't always get the rights to a director's entire body of work. Despite it all, I am one of the masses breathlessly awaiting a DVD release of The Conformist (though not optimistic an original Italian language version was ever cut, so we may have to endure the bad dubbing forever) - the art direction and cinematography are unforgettable. I never forgot certain scenes over the course of 14 years and thousands of other wonderful films. Please someone, release the DVD rights to good people like Kino, Criterion or Anchor Bay - we'll be lining up.
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on August 20, 2001
This movie is one of the most interesting films that is barely available any where. In this film Bertolucci takes his Itallian Neo-realist roots out in to a back alley way and gives them a bullet between the eyes. I was lucky enought to see a bootlegged, subtitled, Pal version on vhs, through a long story that isn't relevant,but it was one of the most mind blowing movie experiences of my life. It is the story of a repressed homosexual who became a fascist during WWII in order to belong and not feel like a freak. It is one of the most in depth explorations of the links between sexual repression and fascisim. If some how you get a chance go see this movie.
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on December 25, 2005
I saw The Conformist when it first came out 35 years ago, and it's still completely vivid in my memory. Everything about it was superlative, but the cinemtography had to be about the best I've ever encountered. For the past several years I check the web periodically to see if a DVD has been released to no avail. Please, somebody release it so that more people can see one of the most stunning films ever made.
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