Last Tango in Paris

Bernado Bertolucci, France, 1972

I hadn’t ever got round to seeing this, famous as it is, so when I found it on FilmIn it had to be watched.

In so many ways, this film is exploitative and questionable. The central relationship portrayed is seriously dysfunctional – bereaved middle aged man, Paul (Marlon Brando with shit hair) and a 20-year-old woman, Jeanne (the oh-so-young and lovely Maria Schneider) embark on a sex-based, no names, no history, secret tryst.

She spends a lot of time hanging around naked. He rapes her, it makes her love him more. Seriously, it’s a little hard to watch at times.

Yet it lingered.

Paris is the real star. We get a flavour of life in the City of Lights. There’s the apartment where they meet (the old building has the kind of old-style lift caged in ornate ironwork and surrounded by the spiralling staircase that gave me romantic visions of living on the continent. My building in Barcelona has one like this and it gives me a little kick every day).

She is from a wealthy background, with a house and an apartment. Both beautiful. Contrast these to the hotel owned by Paul: the kind of shabby French pension of old (or worse, renting rooms by the hour as it does). There’s a scene in a metro station with old train carriages coming and going; the general cobbled backstreets; the tango of the title in an old-fashioned dance hall… Ah Paris du cinema, je t’aime!

I also really loved Jeanne’s cineaste boyfriend Tom, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud of Truffaut films, and his film crew of silent and serious 20-year-olds (I see similar round Barcelona sometimes, so involved in the important piece of art they’re making). I’m sure Léaud was channelling Truffaut here. The inspired director creating a cinema version of reality.

And there is something seductive about mystery, the relationship of two random people who meet by chance, two strangers who don’t know each other and choose to stay that way. It’s a telling juxtaposition with the other couple relationships in the film: Jeanne and Tom, Paul and his dead-by-suicide wife. Intimate pairings based on an idea of the other. It’s as if the film is asking, can we ever really know someone else?

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