Bertolucci. Bertolucci is a style-plus director with a top 100 film- I don’t have many of those left at this point. The Conformist is a brilliant visual high-wire act of a masterpiece—directed with flair and gravitas. Although he’s got 9 archiveable films you can capture all you really need from Bertolucci with 4 films which certainly hurts his cause. I think it also hurts his cause that his most famous film (though not his best)- Last Tango in Paris– is way better known for Brando’s performance and the explicit content than Bertolucci’s direction (which is too bad because Bertolucci directs the hell out of it, too).
Best film: The Conformist. Politics, architecture and interior design (mise-en-scene all-timer here) and clearly a massive masterpiece. Trintignant gives his best performance and film noir and European art house cinema get a rare blending here.
total archiveable films: 9
top 100 films: 1 (The Conformist)
top 500 films: 3 (The Conformist, 1900, The Last Tango in Paris)
top 100 films of the decade: 4(The Conformist, 1900, The Last Tango in Paris)
most overrated: This is really boring but I think the 4 films of his (same top 4 below in the top 10) rated in the TSPDT top 1000 are very accurate.
most underrated: Last Emperor may be slight underrated at #813 on TSPDT but I’m not sure I’m probably pretty close.
gem I want to spotlight: 1900. RT beats it up but I love it. It’s gorgeous to look at, sprawling, kind of filthy in some ways. It reminds me of Once Upon a Time in America actually (which also stars De Niro and a mostly American cast with an Italian master in a really long film).
stylistic innovations/traits: Bertoluccci’s work is both provocative and vibrant. From Last Tango to Eva Green in The Dreamers Bertolucci is known for his controversial work. He was influenced by Pasolini (who he worked under) and Visctoni (The Leopard in particular). His work with Venetian blinds, shadow, architectural space, and epic filmmaking (pure photography) are matched by very few auteurs. His weaker filmography after his top 4 films doesn’t deter his poetic talent for large canvasses.
- The Conformist
- The Last Tango in Paris
- The Last Emperor
- Before the Revolution
- The Sheltering Sky
- Spider’s Stratagem
- The Dreamers
- The Grim Reaper
By year and grades
|1962- The Grim Reaper||R|
|1964- Before the Revolution||R|
|1970- Spider’s Stratagem||R|
|1970- The Conformist||MP|
|1972- The Last Tango in Paris||MS|
|1987- The Last Emperor|
|1990- The Sheltering Sky||R|
|2003- The Dreamers||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
Please understand that this is not a comment about me stubbornly proclaiming an opinion which I think is universal and I really wish to understand. I usually see the how and the why between your grading system, even when I don’t agree, but there are some special cases and The sheltering sky is one of them. Never have I ever understood why this film is just “Recommend”, I can’t get how this is not at least a Must See and somehow I think there’s something I’m missing here.
Thank you very much.
@Help me find the truth – thanks for visiting the site and the comment here. I’ll say this- I haven’t seen The Sheltering Sky in a decade so I’m due for a rewatch so the specific details here for the reason it doesn’t land as one of Bertolucci’s best or 1990’s best are hazy (I last watched it before I took notes and started the blog). I’ll flip the question back to you– why do you think it is at least a Must See? Admittedly, the critics aren’t always right, but they’re with me on this one. The Sheltering Sky doesn’t land in the consensus They Shoot Pictures Don’t They top 1000 (they have 10 films from 1990 and Shelter Sky isn’t one of them).
I’m not sure that the Sheltering Sky is a Must-See, and I was more impressed with some of his other films, but it is actually very eerie how I came on this page to comment the exact same thing: I think the Sheltering Sky is generally underrated. It encompasses pretty much everything that Bertolucci is known for and I thought it was a great visual and emotional journey, as carried by a grieving woman (excellent work from Winger and Malkovitch – if that’s how his name is spelled). I don’t think it’s a masterpiece, but nonetheless I felt the critics were unnecessarily harsh on this film.
@Georg– thanks for sharing. I look forward to my next study of Sheltering Sky even more now.
@Drake- Hey, I’ve been getting into Bertolucci recently (have seen The Conformist, Last Tango, Grim Reaper, and Last Emperor) and am quite liking his films (especially his two early 70’s films). Was wondering where you were able to watch The Spider’s Stratagem? I’ve been looking for this one everywhere but simply cannot find it (digital, blu ray, dvd, etc.) Nothing. Would appreciate your help on this. Thanks.
@Thomas Locke- so you may laugh but it was a VHS copy from New Yorker video back in the day- so it’s been a decade at least since I’ve seen it- I thought I did see it somewhere streaming recently— or on turner classic movies. But I can’t recall. I’m sorry. I’ll be looking for it again.
[…] 52. Bernardo Bertolucci […]
did you watch 1900 in one sitting or multiple? As you usually watch movies with more than 4 hours, like Satantango, Dr. Mabuse. I worry if I watch a long movie in more than one sitting, I might ruin thr “experience” of the movie. I ask that to anyone in the site
The longest movie I myself (not Drake) have ever watched is Once Upon a Time in America, at barely under 4 hours, which I watched in one night. The experience was not ruined for me, I love that film to death. Watching movies much longer than that would honestly be pretty difficult however, at least for me.
I think it is suitable to watch movies, especially longer ones, in multiple sittings. If you have a general memory of the narrative and formal elements that have already been set up, I don’t think anything is ruined by splitting up the film.
Zane, have you never seen Gone With the Wind? I believe it is longer than OuaTiA. Lawrence of Arabia is only slightly shorter than Leone’s epic.
I have not yet seen Gone With The Wind. I of course plan to view it eventually but I don’t believe it’s in my immediate future at the moment. Currently doing the 60s (particularly Antonioni as of now) whilst also viewing unseen modern masterpieces, such as by Pawlikowski.
And yes, I am fairly certain it is 4 hours as well and Lawrence is 3 1/2. Both slightly longer and shorter than Leone’s film.
@Lucas Henriques – I did watch 1900 in one sitting– but certainly not Sátántangó from Tarr or Berlin Alexanderplatz from Fassbinder– I did try to block off consecutive days on my schedule to get them as close to one sitting as possible
@Drake. Apparently there are multiple versions, once i planned to see it but did not find the right version, so i left it for later.
What was the version you saw?
@Aldo- it has been years- I’m fairly confident it was not the 5+ hour version
Love to hear what someone who saw all of Berlin Alexanderplatz in one sitting thought of it.
@Zane– haha yeah– I’d admire the dedication
I saw the 5 hour original version of 1900 few weeks ago on DVD. Highly recommend it, a must-see for cinephiles. One of the best epic movies i’ve seen so far.
Interesting debate, so i’ve seen all the movies that mention GWTW, LOA, OUATIA except (Dr. Mabuse) and it really doesn’t get heavy haha. All in one session.
I also saw satantango in a session, but it has intermissions so don’t worry. It seems to be like a kind of challenge between cinephiles to see satantango in a single session haha.
Yeah haha. It’s sort of become, like Salò, the “funny movie,” since it’s just so long and it’s become the movie that everybody knows for that reason alone even though they may not have seen it
Did you like Satantango? Do you think it is one of the 100 best films of all time (it is 35 in BFI)? Would you recommend?
I also don’t think it’s very difficult to watch movies of four hours, but I’ve never tried a five hours movie (like: 1900). Did you see Heaven’s gate? Its a masterpiece.
@Lucas Henriques. Yeah, i liked.
Second answer. Hard to say, certainly Tarr’s 3 great movies seem equal in quality to me (Werckmeister Harmonies and The Turin Horse) none are drastically superior.
Third answer. No, unless you’ve seen The Turin Horse and Werckmeister Harmonies. If you managed to see those 2 movies the answer is yes.
Fourth answer. I haven’t seen it yet, sometimes i look for some movies but if i can’t find a suitable version or copy, i despair and leave it for later.
Since we are on the Bertolucci page. It is time to ask.
Often (and rightly so) Bertolucci and Pasolini, have been linked and compared.
I think you haven’t finished your study of Pasolini yet, but will Pasolini be ahead of Bertolucci on the list?
@Aldo- good question- I’d be guessing right now without going through the full process but if I just eyeball it- it does look pretty close. The resumes line up pretty nicely—- The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris and 1900 vs. Accattone, Teorema, and Salo…
Just saw the Conformist for the first time as it just became available on Criterion Channel this month.
Wow is my initial reaction to the spectacular visuals and use of color, shadow, interior designs of buildings, etc. Just a clinic of mise en scène and cinematography. I actually watched it twice in a row, which I very rarely do, just because there was so much to take in visually that a single viewing wouldn’t do it justice.
The narrative was certainly fascinating as well although I will admit I was a little confused the first time not because the plot was hard to follow (it was actually fairly straight forward) it was just hard to understand the true motivations of the protagonist but maybe that was the point, he was quite literally trying to conform with what he considered respectable society. He was obvious a moral coward willing to do whatever he had to do to fit in with the power structure at the time which was of course fascism.
Going to watch the conformist for the first time, is it in italian?
@M*A*S*H- That is exciting! And yes- it is in Italian.
About that shot at the top from The Conformist, it takes place in Paris and the professor and his wife are killed right afterward. Would that make it the Last Tango in Paris?
Yes, except it’s also their first tango in Paris too haha.
Well I suppose it was Clerici’s first tango in Paris… and also probably his last.
Hello this is my first time here and I have a question after watching apocalypse now for the first time I want to watch another great movie and I’d like to know what your list of most beautiful looking movies are since the conformist is a movie I might consider and it’s commonly called one of the best looking films ever.
@Dalton- thank you for visiting the site and the comment. “most beautiful looking” is a great question- not a list I have handy but certainly The Conformist would be on there, Barry Lyndon, 2001, Days of Heaven, Lawrence of Arabia, In the Mood For Love, Blade Runner, … others can chime in–and I always love checking out Tastes of Cinema for these sorts of lists – they have two actually here http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2017/the-10-most-beautiful-movies-of-all-time/2/ (includes Apocalypse Now) and this http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2018/the-20-most-beautiful-movie-masterpieces-of-all-time/ (includes The Conformist)
I’ve only seen 100 films so I’m relatively new to movies but out of those I’ve already seen blade runner and wow I love that film it’s in my top 20 and even then I feel like I should always move it up, anyways thanks for the list I’ve always wanted to see 2001 but on a big screen and sadly I live in a rural town so that’s quite hard.
The Grim Reaper —
Before the Revolution HR
Spider’s Stratagem HR
The Conformist MP
The Last Tango in Paris HR
The Last Emperor R
The Sheltering Sky R
The Dreamers R
Something I’d add to stylistic innovations/traits is Bertolucci’s preference for outsiders/vacation or travel movies. Brando (American) in Paris, Pitt (American) in Paris for the Dreamers, The Sheltering Sky, Stealing Beauty, Little Buddha all feature travel like that, even in the Conformist, Trintignant is going abroad for his work.
@Harry- Great add to the page here Harry- good work here
Not sure if you’ve answered this in the past so apologies if that is the case, but what are your thoughts on certain restorations? I know there is controversy surrounding the latest color grading of The Conformist (there was some similarly to WKW as well) and wonder what your opinion is. Many are saying it ruins the original version, I haven’t seen it yet but that would be a shame if that is true.
@Ce- depends on the restoration. I think there are some hits and misses (have not seen the latest for The Conformist) but old films have to be restored. I went to the large format Christopher Nolan backed 2001: A Space Odyssey where they though famously left it “analog” and unrestored and it was ugly – a thundering disappointment. Old film decays and needs to be restored. I had to watch the bluray version of the 2001 the following night (which was restored, and actually closer to the 1968 version– the 1968 version hadn’t been fading for 50+ years if that makes sense) to cleanse my palate and set things right with the world.
If I remember the latest restoration of In The Mood For Love received some harsh backlash, was just curious if it made a big impact either way for you
@Ce My last viewing was 2019- so I do not believe it was the restored version