The Conformist – Review

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Until I watched The Conformist my only experience of Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci was 2003‘s The Dreamers starring Eva Green and Michael Pitt. Needless to say I found The Dreamers an easier watch, not least because the majority of that film is in English. The same cannot be said for The Conformist Bertolucci’s 1970 political drama. Spoken in Italian and French the film focuses on Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintignant) a young man starting a career in the Mussolini government. The film centers around Marcello’s mission to assassinate his former University Professor Quardri (Enzo Tarascio) who has fled to France. While this mission provides the essential plot, the film is essentially a character study of Marcello, the Conformist of the title. Through a number of flashbacks, Marcello’s childhood, marriage and his relationship with his parents are explored in detail.

The flashbacks form the first half of the film and while they inform the events that follow the non-liner time frame along with the language barrier can be confusing at times. By exploring certain traumatic incidents in his childhood as well as the strained relationships with his morphine-addicted mother and his mentally ill father, we understand why Mercello is the way he is and why above all he strives to conform to the world around him, socially, politically and sexually.

Mercello’s mission is further complicated by the presence of his new wife Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) who believes that they are traveling to Paris for their honeymoon. The character of Giulia is deliberately irritating and when the Professors young wife (Dominique Sanda) is introduced she provides a huge contrast. The film then goes through a period of a becoming a love-quadrangle of sorts between Mercello, Quardri and their wives while the two men try to figure each other out. This in itself could have provided the basis for an entire film and in the wider context of the running time it feels a little rush.



All the same everything that has gone before makes the climatic scene in the French mountains all the more powerful and we are now so deeply invested into Mercello’s character that he doesn’t need to speak.

In a final dénouement the film flashes forward to the end of Mussolini’s dictatorship and we witness Mercello struggling to come to terms with his past. To reveal more than this would be a spoiler but lets just say the incident with the professor is not the only skeleton in Mercello’s closet.

Your enjoyment of the film to some extent depends on your attitude towards subtitles. To me the only issue with subtitles is that it detracts from the performances, as your focusing on the text rather than the actor speaking. With repeat viewings this becomes less of an issue though and given its depth and complexity The Conformist definitely needs revisiting.

The Conformist is out now on Blu Ray and DVD.

The Conformist on Amazon 


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