Last Tango in Paris

Starring:  Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider Directed by: Bernardo Bertolucci

After a month of watching pretty much nothing but horror movies of extremely varied quality, I sought out a foreign/artsy/acclaimed film.  Last Tango in Paris had been languishing in the queue for some time, and it fit that description.  The dialogue is mostly French, with some scenes in English.  Marlon Brando was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the film.

And yet…I didn't really like it.

The psychology behind the film is interesting – take two complete strangers and have them carry on an anonymous affair for an indeterminate, but presumably short, period of time.  Paul (Brando) and Jeanne (Maria Schneider) happen to arrive within minutes of each other to view an apartment.  Despite Jeanne stopping to look at the apartment on her way to pick up her boyfriend from the train station, she ends up having a quickie with Paul.  He suggests they meet there again.

Jeanne seems to be moderately irritated with her boyfriend, a filmmaker who is making something of a 'day in the life' movie about her.  She seems to feel used by him, especially as her greeting him at the train station is filmed to get spontaneous expressions of emotion as part of the film.  Thus it makes sense why she might be willing to go back to see Paul – who appears to be at least twice her age – again.

Paul has recently been freed from a relationship by his wife committing suicide.  With her mother fussing about and squawking at Paul like a ruffled matron hen, it is easy to see why he longs to escape to encounters without commitments.  When at the apartment, he repeatedly tells Jeanne that he wants to know nothing about her – not her real name, not her age…nothing.

Jeanne meets him at the apartment several more times.  Especially in contrast to Tom – who wants to know every bit of her past through filming and participate in every bit of her future by proposing marriage – the lack of interest in anything but the present via Paul must have been an exciting draw.

However, there are some scenes in which Jeanne seems like just an object, a toy for Paul.  She comes to the apartment as if seeking acknowledgement, lounges around wearing jeans and a scarf (or less), on display for Paul…who uses her and doesn't seem to care.  Until it's time to break off the affair, in which they undergo a dramatic role reversal.

I suppose I am easily scandalized (as apparently were some audiences, as the film has been rated X, R with edits, and currently NC-17).  As mentioned, it's an interesting idea, but the execution is a little uncomfortable to watch.  Especially as Jeanne looks very, very young with a poodle-curly, glam metal-esque hairdo, and Paul looks…just older.  In a pathetic and depressing mid-life crisis way. Which was probably completely intentional.  Perhaps I should have watched On the Waterfront or something to see a better Brando.

If you:

  • Feel a little schizophrenic watching movies that flipflop between multiple languages
  • Are disinterested in movies about May/December relationships
  • Expect the movie to be primarily about tango, or any type of vertical dancing

Don't put it in the queue.

If you:

  • Are a film connoisseur and this in on the must-see list due to Brando, Academy Award nominations, controversial status, etc
  • Find the topic interesting for the sake of human sociology/psychology/sexuality
  • Are not bothered by the idea of sex in very uncomfortable places (and no, Mallrats fans, I do not mean in the backseat of a Volkswagon).

Put it in the queue.

Written by Jennifer Venson