I had always wanted to watch this rarely-seen (and most Godardian) of Bertolucci films ever since I read about it in an old British film magazine of my father's. However, having caught up with it now thanks to No Shame's 2-Disc Special Edition, I have to say that I was underwhelmed, finding it overly didactic and, unfortunately, Godard's trademark dynamism and humor (in his early work, at least) are seldom evident here.
While interesting and quite admirable in itself - being a loose updating of Dostoyevsky's "The Double" - the film feels dated today (especially its consumerist critique, represented by a silly musical number about "Dash", a detergent which ironically is still in use nearly 40 years on!); having said that, Godard had already attacked the same targets in 2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER (1967). Besides, Pierre Clementi's cold and arrogant personality doesn't allow much audience sympathy. Bertolucci's technique is suitably experimental - one of his most surreal touches is having Clementi's large shadow, cast on a wall, turning against him and, in a remarkable sequence, despite Morricone's lush romantic music, a date between Clementi and Stefania Sandrelli consists of them being "driven" in a stationary vehicle with Clementi's butler making do as chauffeur i.e. acting out the machine's sounds with his mouth! Incidentally, a similar scene was depicted in Jerzy Skolimowski's LE DEPART (1967), another experimental film I caught up with recently and which also left me somewhat disappointed.
Apart from reflecting on politics and modern society, the script contrasts contemporaneous attitudes in theatre and cinema. Sandrelli, although looking positively gorgeous as a blonde, seems uneasy in this environment (even if she did go on to make 3 more films with the director) but Tina Aumont's contribution (who expires unconventionally at the hands of Clementi at the end of the afore-mentioned musical number) is rather delightful. The film's colorful widescreen photography makes great use of its Rome locations, while Ennio Morricone's eclectic score serves more often than not as ironic comment on the action.
Not an easy title to appreciate, therefore, and Bertolucci has certainly made more involving films but, at least, the DVD extras prepared by No Shame (this is their first release I've sampled) - particularly the fascinating and lengthy interviews with Bertolucci and film editor Roberto Perpignani - are excellent indeed! An interesting piece of information gleaned from the supplements is that the film's script was rarely adhered to and neither were current conventional Italian filming techniques (the sound was recorded live); besides, Pierre Clementi flew every weekend to Paris and reported back to Bertolucci with the most up-to-date slogans spouted by the protesters in those famous May 1968 riots, thus enabling him to incorporate them into his film like "Vietato Vietare" (It is forbidden to forbid) and "Proibito Proibire" (It is prohibited to prohibit)...
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