Last Tango in Paris-1972
Starring-Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider
Top 10 Disturbing Films-#8
Scott’s Review #202
Reviewed December 5, 2014
Last Tango in Paris is a very dark 1972 erotica art film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci (The Conformist), starring Marlon Brando as a disturbed, angry American man named Paul, whose wife has committed suicide. He is left to survive on his own in Paris lost and without her where he runs a decrepit apartment complex. Lonely and bitter, he meets a much younger Parisian woman (Maria Schneider), equally disturbed for different reasons, and they forge a relationship that is sometimes brutal, degrading, but also containing mutual affection and need. They are addicted to each other.
This film may very well be my favorite performance by Marlon Brando. He plays a hateful, unpleasant character, yet there is something appealing about him and the viewer sympathizes with his grief. That is to Brando’s credit, of course. A lesser actor would not be as effective. He is damaged, treats everyone like shit, but there is also a vulnerability to him that is mesmerizing to watch. Brando was such a great, method actor that he simply morphs into the characters he plays. Paul is certainly his most raw and emotional performance of his career.
Actress Maria Schneider is also tremendous in the film. Equally disturbed, her character Jeanne experienced a vastly different upbringing- that of wealth and pampering. She has a fiancé who loves her dearly, yet she is drawn to the power and abuse of Paul- the fact that he is an older man is sexy to her. I kept thinking, “What is wrong with this woman?” She seemingly has everything, yet she yearns for excitement. Is Paul a fling for her? Does she care about him or is she using him? Is he using her? Could they be using each other? The film raises many psychological questions. Jeanne is clearly in emotional turmoil. In fact, both Jeanne and Paul are.
Last Tango in Paris is a difficult film to watch- several scenes are unpleasant, even brutal, but it is a character study of two damaged individuals. When Paul anally penetrates Jeanne on the floor of his apartment, forcing her to recite gibberish, it is almost too much to bear. Paul wants to know nothing about Jeanne. He does not want to know her name, her past, nothing- complete anonymity. He lives for the present and their sex is animalistic, filled with lust and need.
But these examples are a testament to the power of Last Tango in Paris. It is not boring. The finale leaves you wondering what will happen to Jeanne. Will she commit suicide? Will she return to her fiancé and life of luxury, her affair with Paul over? Was the affair only a fling for her or does she really love Paul?
The film is a dark, tragic, romantic story. It is brutal, raw, and honest. It is not to be missed.