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Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Writer: Bernardo Bertolucci
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin
Length: 111 min
Region: Region Free
Label: Raro Video
Release Date: November 25, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: Italian: LPCM 2.0 English: LPCM 2.0
- 28 page Illustrated Booklet
- In the Shade of the Conformist: a video essay by Adriano Aprá, with an interview with Bernardo Bertolucci
Since its release, Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 surrealist-political-thriller The Conformist has been somewhat of a talking point among diverse circles. Upon screening at the New York Film Festivals, critics were immediately taken by what they saw as Bertolucci’s first commercial film—a comment that would perhaps strike contemporary viewers as bizarre. Unfortunately, the years weren’t so kind to the film, and it became something of a difficulty to acquire on home video formats. When available it often suffered from poor transfers and/or dubbing. In their continual effort to restore and release Italian cult films, Raro Video have unveiled a region free Blu-Ray version of the film—for the first time ever—, featuring a restoration supervised by the cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.
When Bernardo Bertolucci pitched his concept for the cinematic adaptation of Alberto Moravia’s 1951 novel The Conformist there was only one problem—he hadn’t yet read it. Yes, humorous as it may sound, Bertolucci pitched his concept for the film solely on the information recounted to him about the novel. While this may sound like a strange business practice, it is in its own odd way emblematic of the film. Despite what people may think The Conformist (1970) is not a story of history; it is the memory of history, interpretation of history—a memory mediated as much by fact as it is by artifice. Born in 1941, Bertolucci would have had no recollection of the years in which the majority of the film takes place, except through that of stories, films, books, etc. No it is not a film that aims to depict the realities of the fascist occupation of Italy, The Conformist is a film that aims to expose the psychological realities of not only that era. The Conformist is also a film that cannot be separated from the trauma unto which it was produced. Similar to the civil and political unrest in France (May of ’68), Italy had its own series of student protests that would culminate in ’69 and ’70 in a series of protests coined as “Hot Autumn.”
While the nature in which the events unfold and the sometimes absurdist nature of the movie can be a bit perplexing, the story of the film is quite simple. Following a traumatic sexual experience early in his life, Marcello Clerici becomes obsessed with conforming to society. Living in Mussolini era Italy, the normal man is the fascist man. All of his actions and choices are the result of his desire to be like everyone else. After accepting a mission to assassinate one of his former professors, an Italian anti-fascist expatriate living in Paris, Clerici sets off for France with his new bride under the guise of a honeymoon. Once in Paris, it is not long before Clerici falls under the political spell of his former professor while simultaneously taking to his wife, and begins to question his political motives, identity, and mission.
Visually, The Conformist is one of the most breath taking films ever to be produced. Influence can be seen ranging anywhere from Renoir to Godard to Fellini, but there is, nevertheless, a distinct and unique voice that could be none other than Bertolucci’s. A drab visual palette highlights the cold architecture of a fascist Rome, while the pre-Occupied Paris is lush with vibrant reds and blues. With DP Vittorio Stotaro, Bertolucci’s vision ranks among the best. The camera is in a perpetual state of movement, yet it moves not in respect to the characters but under a motivation of its own. The sophisticated nature of the camera is constantly undermining the façade of cinema. As spectators, we are aware that we are experiencing artifice. By 1970, this is no means a unique concept, however, it emerges as one that is necessitated by the film’s story. The ever-undermining process alerts the viewer not only to the fact that we are watching a creation, but it highlights the idea that the story of the film itself is yet another fabrication.
Whose fabrication? The answer for that question is not clear. Certainly, as screenwriter, it is in part Bertolucci’s response to the political turmoil Italy had experienced over the course of his life—from fascism, to the economically destroyed 50s, the boom of the 60s, to the aforementioned political unrest of the late 60s and 70s. Further, Bertolucci has openly discussed creating the film to represent the era of cinema that he fell in love with. In this light, The Conformist is as much a political statement as it is a love letter to cinema—this dual consciousness is no stranger to films produced during the French New Wave. Other than Bertolucci, the film could be argued to be the memory of Clerici’s. There have been some who have even hypothesized that the film is all a figment of Clerici’s imagination—and there is a case for this. In a less theoretical view, it could be said that, moderated through Clerici’s view, we are presented with the images of his memory of events. and memory and reality are often incongruous. This is supported by the non-linear construction of events, where often there are slippages of time.
Supervised by the cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, the restoration comes to us in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The 1080p HD transfer is extremely strong but does have a few flaws that we will address. I have not had a chance to view the Arrow Video print, but there is somewhat uneven commentary online. Many have claimed that Raro’s quality is an improvement in regards to grain structure, however, it would appear that both releases have been sourced from the same original transfer. I will not make any comparisons or speculations and judge the print on its own merits. First, the colors on this restoration are stunning. The differentiation between the cold and stagnant feeling Rome and crisp and vibrant Paris are really apparent on the transfer. Further, contrast on the print is extremely strong. There doesn’t appear to be much damage or dust and when present it is a mild occurrence. The biggest issue with the release is probably with image stabilization. There are times where there appears to be frame slippages and the image jumps momentarily. This is something of an unfortunate occurrence, but overall it still seems more of a mild annoyance than anything else. It is an error that I can certainly live with.
What audiences will undoubtedly notice is that there are sync issues on this release. But, fans of Italian cinema have also grow accustomed to this being a possibility, so I highly doubt that it will bother most. This issues is not a problem with the transfer but a result of the production. Actors speak in different languages, so even the original audio track was over-dubbed after photography. For this release there is both an Italian and English LPCM 2.0 mix, with optional English subtitles. I will say that both audio tracks offer a good mix of elements, but for your money, the Italian mix is far less distracting. Despite having specific actors speaking in English, the English dub has a strange feeling that really distracts from the viewing experience. There doesn’t seem to be as much passion in the delivery, ultimately leaving a dry intonation.
While Raro’s release doesn’t quite have as many features as the previous Arrow release, they are first-rate additions. First, the release comes with a great booklet featuring essays, reviews, and various interviews. It’s a fine collection of writings, and really represents something that we wish would appear in more releases. The second, and absolute must-see, feature is the 50-minute video essay-meets interview, In the Shade of the Conformist. This piece is pretty unique, editing together an in-depth interview with Bertolucci with a visual essay by critic/historian Adriano Apra. Apra dissects Bertolucci’s film style, creating graphs to compare aspects such as shot length throughout Bertolucci’s films, scene length, chronology, etc. While we have seen a number of great extra features this year, In the Shade of the Conformist is probably the most in-depth and informative piece to surface.
While it is a bit of a disappointment that the print is not in perfect shape, all together Raro’s release of The Conformist is far more of a surprise than a let down. To be honest, having In the Shade of the Conformist included makes the package worth owning, let alone the fact that The Conformist is easily one of the greatest films ever made. This is a film that you will find yourself revisiting, at least once a year. All of the performances are mesmerizing, but Jean-Louis Trintignant, in particular, gives one of the best of his long and impressive career. It ranks as one of 2014’s best resored releases. This is a quintessential piece of Italian cinema—as important as anything made during the Italian Neo-Realist movement. It also, much like Leone’s work, stands as a representation of the transitional period between the neo-realists and the burgeoning Italian genre cinema of the 70s and 80s.