• Last Tango in Paris

    By Pauline Kael

    The following review, one of the most renowned in the history of film criticism, appeared in The New Yorker magazine on October 28, 1972. It is reprinted with the permission of the author, Pauline Kael.

    Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris was presented for the first time on the closing night of the New York Film Festival, October 14, 1972: that date should become a landmark in movie history comparable to May 29, 1913—the night Le Sacre du Printemps was first performed—in music history. There was no riot, and no one threw anything at the screen, but I think it’s fair to say that the audience was in a state of shock, because Last Tango in Paris has the same kind of hypnotic excitement as the Sacre, the same primitive force, and the same thrusting, jabbing eroticism.

    The movie breakthrough has finally come. Exploitation films have been supplying mechanized sex—sex as physical stimulant but without any passion or emotional violence. The sex in Last Tango in Paris expresses the characters’ drives. Marlon Brando, as Paul, is working out his aggression on Jeanne (Maria Schneider), and the physical menace of sexuality that is emotionally charged is such a departure from everything we’ve come to expect at the movies that there was something almost like fear in the atmosphere of the party in the lobby that followed the screening. Carried along by the sustained excitement of the movie, the audience had given Bertolucci an ovation, but afterward, as individuals, they were quiet. This must be the most powerfully erotic movie ever made, and it may turn out to be the most liberating movie ever made, and so it’s probably only natural that an audience, anticipating a voluptuous feast from the man who made The Conformist, and confronted with this unexpected sexuality and the new realism it requires of the actors, should go into shock. Bertolucci and Brando have altered the face of an art form. Who was prepared for that?

    Many of us expected eroticism to come to the movies, and some of us had even guessed that it might come from Bertolucci, because he seemed to have the elegance and the richness and the sensuality to make lushly erotic movies. But I think those of us who had speculated about erotic movies had tended to think of them in terms of Terry Southern’s deliriously comic novel on the subject, Blue Movies; we had expected artistic blue movies, talented directors taking over from the Schlockmeisters and making sophisticated voyeuristic fantasies that would be gorgeous fun—a real turn-on. What nobody had talked about was a sex film that would churn-up everybody’s emotions. Bertolucci shows his masterly elegance in Last Tango in Paris, but he also reveals a master’s substance.

    The script (which Bertolucci wrote with Franco Arcalli) is in French and English; it centers on a man’s attempt to separate sex from everything else. When his wife commits suicide, Paul, an American living in Paris, tries to get away from his life. He goes to look at an empty flat and meets Jeanne, who is also looking at it. They have sex in an empty room, without knowing anything about each other—not even first names. He rents the flat, and for three days they meet there. She wants to know who he is, but he insists that sex is all that matters. We see both of them (as they don’t see each other) in their normal lives—Paul back at the flophouse-hotel his wife owned, Jeanne with her mother, the widow of a colonel, and with her adoring fiance (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a TV director, who is relentlessly shooting a sixteen-millimeter film about her, a film that is to end in a week with their wedding. Mostly, we see Paul and Jeanne together in the flat as they act out his fantasy of ignorant armies clashing by night, and it is warfare—sexual aggression and retreat and battles joined.

    The necessity for isolation from the world is, of course, his, not hers. But his life floods in. He brings into this isolation chamber his sexual anger, his glorying in his prowess, and his need to debase her and himself. He demands total subservience to his sexual wishes; this enslavement is for him the sexual truth, the real thing, sex without phoniness. And she is so erotically sensitized by the rounds of lovemaking that she believes him. He goads her and tests her until when he asks if she’s ready to eat vomit as a proof of love, she is, and gratefully. He plays out the American male tough-guy sex role—insisting on his power in bed, because that is all the “truth” he knows.

    What they go through together in their pressure cooker is an intensified, speeded-up history of the sex relationships of the dominating men and the adoring women who have provided the key sex model of the past few decades—the model that is collapsing. They don’t know each other, but their sex isn’t “primitive” or “pure”; Paul is the same old Paul, and Jeanne, we gradually see, is also Jeanne, the colonel’s daughter. They bring their cultural hang-ups into sex, so it’s the same poisoned sex Strindberg wrote about: a battle of unequally matched partners, asserting whatever dominance they can, seizing any advantage. Inside the flat, his male physical strength and the mythology he has built on it are the primary facts. He pushes his morose, romantic insanity to its limits; he burns through the sickness that his wife’s suicide has brought on—the self-doubts, the need to prove himself and torment himself. After three days, his wife is laid out for burial and he is ready to resume his identity. He gives up the flat: He wants to live normally again, and he wants to love Jeanne as a person. But Paul is forty-five, Jeanne is twenty. She lends herself to an orgiastic madness, shares it, and then tries to shake it off—as many another woman has, after a night or a twenty-years’ night. When they meet in the outside world, Jeanne sees Paul as a washed-up middle-aged man—a man who runs a flophouse.

    Much of the movie is American in spirit. Brando’s Paul (a former actor and journalist who has been living off his French wife) is like a drunk with a literary turn of mind. He bellows his contempt for hypocrisies and orthodoxies; he keeps trying to shove them all back down other people’s throats. His profane humor and self-loathing self-centeredness and street “wisdom” are in the style of the American hard-boiled fiction aimed at the masculine fantasy market, sometimes by writers (often good ones, too) who believe in more than a little of it. Bertolucci has a remarkably unbiased intelligence. Part of the convulsive effect of Last Tango in Paris is that we are drawn to Paul’s view of society and yet we can’t help seeing him as a self-dramatizing, self-pitying clown. Paul believes that his animal noises are more honest than words, and that his obscene vision of things is the way things really are; he’s often convincing. After Paul and Jeanne have left the flat, he chases her and persuades her to have a drink at a ballroom holding a tango contest. When we see him drunkenly sprawling on the floor among the bitch-chic mannequin-dancers and then baring his bottom to the woman official who asks him to leave, our mixed emotions may be like those some of us experienced when we watched Norman Mailer put himself in an indefensible position against Gore Vidal on the Dick Cavett show, justifying all the people who were fed up with him. Brando’s Paul carries a yoke of masculine pride and aggression across his broad back; he’s weighed down by it and hung on it. When Paul is on all fours barking like crazy man-dog to scare off a Bible salesman who has come to the flat, he may—to the few who saw Mailer’s Wild 90—be highly reminiscent of Mailer on his hands and knees barking at a German shepherd to provoke it. But Brando’s barking extends the terms of his character and the movie, while we are disgusted with Mailer for needing to prove himself by teasing an unwilling accomplice, and his barking throws us outside the terms of his movie.

    Realism with the terror of actual experience still alive on the screen—that’s what Bertolucci and Brandoachieve. It’s what Mailer has been trying to get at in his disastrous, ruinously expensive films. He was right about what was needed but hopelessly wrong in how he went about getting it. He tried to pull a new realism out of himself onto film, without a script, depending wholly on improvisation, and he sought to bypass the self-consciousness and fakery of a man acting himself by improvising within a fictional construct—as a gangster in Wild 90, as an Irish cop in Beyond the Law (best of them), and as a famous director who is also a possible Presidential candidate in Maidstone. In movies, Mailer tried to will a work of art into existence without going through the steps of making it, and his theory of film, a rationale for this willing, sounds plausible until you see the movies, which are like Mailer’s shambling bouts of public misbehavior, such as that Cavett show. His movies trusted to inspiration and were stranded when it didn’t come.

    Bertolucci builds a structure that supports improvisation. Everything is prepared, but everything is subject to change, and the whole film is alive with a sense of discovery. Bertolucci builds the characters “on what the actors are in themselves. I never ask them to interpret something preexistent, except for dialogue—and even that changes a lot.” For Bertolucci, the actors “make the characters.” And Brando knows how to improvise: it isn’t just Brando improvising, it’s Brando improvising as Paul. This is certainly similar to what Mailer was trying to do as the gangster and the cop and the movie director, but when Mailer improvises, he expresses only a bit of himself. When Brando improvises within Bertolucci’s structure, his full art is realized. His performance is not like Mailer’s acting but like Mailer’s best writing: intuitive, rapt, princely. On the screen Brando is our genius as Mailer is our genius in literature. Paul is Rojack’s expatriate-failure brother, and Brando goes all the way with him.

    We all know that movie actors often merge with their roles in a way that stage actors don’t, quite, but Brando did it even on the stage. I was in New York when he played his famous small role in Truckline Cafe in 1946; arriving late at a performance, and seated in the center of the second row, I looked up and saw what I thought was an actor having a seizure onstage. Embarrassed for him, I lowered my eyes, and it wasn’t until the young man who’d brought me grabbed my arm and said, “Watch this guy!” that I realized he was acting. I think a lot of people will make my old mistake when they see Brando’s performance as Paul; I think some may prefer to make this mistake, so they won’t have to recognize how deep down he goes and what he dredges up. Expressing a character’s sexuality makes new demands on an actor, and Brando has no trick accent to play with this time, and no putty on his face. It’s perfectly apparent that the role was conceived for Brando, using elements of his past as integral parts of the character. Bertolucci wasn’t surprised by what Brando did; he was ready to use what Brando brought to the role. And when Brando is a full creative presence on the screen, the realism transcends the simulated actuality of any known style of cinéma verité, because his surface accuracy expresses what’s going on underneath. He’s an actor: when he shows you something, he lets you know what it means. The torture of seeing Brando—at his worst—in A Countess from Hong Kong was that it was a raductio ad absurdum of the wastefulness and emasculation (for both sexes) of Hollywood acting; Chaplin, the director, obviously allowed no participation, and Brando was like a miserably obedient soldier going through drill. When you’re nothing but an inductee, you have no choice. The excitement of Brando’s performance here is in the revelation of how creative screen acting can be. At the simplest level, Brando, by his inflections and rhythms, the right American obscenities, and perhaps an improvised monologue, makes the dialogue his own and makes Paul an authentic American abroad, in a way that an Italian writer-director simply couldn’t do without the actor’s help. At a more complex level, he helps Bertolucci discover the movie in the process of shooting it, and that’s what makes moviemaking an art. What Mailer never understood was that his macho thing prevented flexibility and that in terms of his own personality he couldn’t improvise—he was consciously acting. And he couldn’t allow others to improvise, because he was always challenging them to come up with something. Using the tactics he himself compared to “a commando raid on the nature of reality,” he was putting a gun to their heads. Lacking the background of a director, he reduced the art of film to the one element of acting, and in his confusion of “existential” acting with improvisation he expected “danger” to be a spur. But acting involves the joy of self-discovery, and to improvise, as actors mean it, is the most instinctive, creative part of acting—to bring out and give form to what you didn’t know you had in you; it’s the surprise, the “magic” in acting. A director has to be supportive for an actor to feel both secure enough and free enough to reach into himself. Brando here, always listening to an inner voice, must have a direct pipeline to the mystery of character.

    Bertolucci has an extravagant gift for sequences that are like arias, and he has given Brando some scenes that really sing. In one, Paul visits his dead wife’s lover (Massimo Girotti) who also livesin the run-down hotel, and the two men, in identical bathrobes (gifts from the dead woman), sit side by side and talk. The scene is miraculously basic—a primal scene that has just been discovered. In another, Brando rages at his dead wife, laid out in a bed of flowers, and then, in an excess of tenderness, tries to wipe away the cosmetic mask that defaces her. He has become the least fussy actor. There is nothing extra, no flourishes in these scenes. He purifies the characterization beyond all that: he brings the character a unity of soul. Paul feels so “real” and the character is brought so close that a new dimension in screen acting has been reached. I think that if the actor were anyone but Brando many of us would lower our eyes in confusion.

    His first sex act has a boldness that had the audience gasping, and the gasp was caused—in part—by our awareness that this was Marlon Brando doing it, not an unknown actor. In the flat, he wears the white T-shirt of Stanley Kowalski, and he still has the big shoulders and thick-muscled arms. Photographed looking down, he is still tender and poetic; photographed looking up, he is ravaged, like the man in the Francis Bacon painting under the film’s opening titles. We are watching Brando throughout this movie, with all the feedback that that implies, and his willingness to run the full course with a study of the aggression in masculine sexuality and how the physical strength of men lends credence to the insanity that grows out of it gives the film a larger, tragic dignity. If Brando knows this hell, why should we pretend we don’t?

    The colors in this movie are late-afternoon orange-beige-browns and pink—the pink of flesh drained of blood, corpse pink. They are so delicately modulated (Vittorio Storaro was the cinematographer, as he was on The Conformist) that romance and rot are one; the lyric extravagance of the music (by Gato Barbieri) heightens this effect. Outside the flat, the gray buildings and the noise are certainly modern Paris, and yet the city seems muted. Bertolucci uses a feedback of his own—the feedback of old movies to enrich the imagery and associations. In substance, this is his most American film, yet the shadow of Michel Simon seems to hover over Brando, and the ambience is a tribute to the early crime-of-passion films of Jean Renoir, especially La chienne and La bête Humaine. Léaud, as Tom, the young director, is used as an affectionate take-off on Godard, and the movie that Tom is shooting about Jeanne, his runaway bride, echoes Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante. Bertolucci’s soft focus recalls the thirties films, with their lyrically kind eye for every variety of passion; Marcel Carne comes to mind, as well as the masters who influenced Bertolucci’s technique—von Sternberg (the controlled lighting) and Max Ophuls (the tracking camera). The film is utterly beautiful to look at. The virtuosity of Bertolucci’s gliding camera style is such that he can show you the hype of the tango contest scene (with its own echo of The Conformist) by stylizing it (automaton-dancers do wildly fake head turns) and still make it work. He uses the other actors for their associations, too—Girotti, of course, the star of so many Italian films, including Senso and Ossessione, Visconti’s version of The Postman Always Rings Twice, and, as Paul’s mother-in-law, Maria Michi, the young girl who betrays her lover in Open City. As a maid in the hotel (part of a weak, diversionary subplot that is soon dispensed with), Catherine Allegret, with her heart-shaped mouth in a full, childishly beautiful face, is an aching, sweet reminder of her mother, Simone Signoret, in her Casque d’Or days. Bertolucci draws upon the movie background of this movie because movies are as active in him as direct experience—perhaps more active, since they may color everything else. Movies are a past we share, and, whether we recognize them or not, the copious associations are at work in the film and we feel them. As Jeanne, Maria Schneider, who has never had a major role before, is like a bouquet of Renoir’s screen heroines and his father’s models. She carries the whole history of movie passion in her long legs and baby face.

    Maria Schneider’s freshness—Jeanne’s ingenuous corrupt innocence—gives the film a special radiance. When she lifts her wedding dress to her waist, smiling coquettishly as she exposes her pubic hair, she’s in a great film tradition of irresistibly naughty girls. She has a movie face—open to the camera, and yet no more concerned about it than a plant or a kitten. When she speaks English, she sounds like Leslie Caron in An American in Paris, and she often looks like a plump cheeked Jane Fonda in her Barbarella days. The role is said to have been conceived for Dominique Sanda, who couldn’t play it, because she was pregnant, but surely it has been reconceived. With Sanda, a tigress, this sexual battle might have ended in a draw. But the pliable, softly unprincipled Jeanne of Maria Schneider must be the winner: it is the soft ones who defeat men and walk away, consciencelessly. A Strindberg heroine would still be in that flat, battling, or in another flat, battling. But Jeanne is like the adorably sensual bitch-heroines of French films of the twenties and thirties—both shallow and wise. These girls know how to take care of themselves; they know who No. 1 is. Brando’s Paul, the essentially naive outsider, the romantic, is no match for a French bourgeois girl.

    Because of legal technicalities, the film must open in Italy before it opens in this country, and so Last Tango in Paris is not scheduled to play here until January. There are certain to be detractors, for this movie represents too much of a change for people to accept it easily or gracefully. They’ll grab at aesthetic flaws—a florid speech or an oddball scene—in order to dismiss it. Though Americans seem to have lost the capacity for being scandalized, and the Festival audience has probably lost the cultural confidence to admit to being scandalized, it might have been easier on some if they could have thrown things. I’ve tried to describe the impact of a film that has made the strongest impression on me in almost twenty years of reviewing. This is a movie people will be arguing about, I think, for as long as there are movies. They’ll argue about how it is intended, as they argue again now about The Dance of Death. It is a movie you can’t get out of your system, and I think it will make some people very angry and disgust others. I don’t believe that there’s anyone whose feelings can be totally resolved about the sex scenes and the social attitudes in this film. For the very young, it could be as antipathetic as L’avventura was at first -- more so, because it’s closer, more realistic, and more emotionally violent. It could embarrass them, and even frighten them. For adults, it’s like seeing pieces of your life, and so, of course, you can’t resolve your feelings about it—our feelings about life are never resolved. Besides, the biology that is the basis of the “tango” remains.

37 comments

  • By Octavian Orologiu
    February 04, 2011
    11:25 AM

    When a fat mysoginistic prick teams up with a has-been disgusting former beau hunk sort of an actor, they give it a bit of a Frenchy twist, they insert some truly disgusting emotionally distraught photography, and the result is this peace of woman loathing crap that ends up being perpetuated in themes and motifs by an entire tradition of sexist/self loathing morons like Lars von Trier and Catherine Breillat for years to come. Thank you Pauline Kael, you self hating shrew, it's people like you that put femminism to shame and wreck the whole body of art people like Vera Chytilova were trying to build.
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    • By PW
      June 18, 2012
      01:20 AM

      Octavian - whether or you are man or woman, you sound like someone who REALLY needs to get laid.
    • By Nope
      January 04, 2013
      01:37 AM

      PW, whoever you are, you seem like you really can't respect other people's opnions and enjoy playing psychologist.
    • By JanuaryFebruary
      October 15, 2013
      07:12 PM

      Claiming that Last Tango in Paris is sexist is an opinion. Calling Kael a self-hating shrew and von Trier a self-loathing moron says much more about the commenter than anything else. You don't have to be Freud to see that Octavian is taking out some personal issues on complete strangers.
    • By Rock
      December 29, 2013
      05:11 PM

      Hey I'm in complete agreement with you when it comes to Trier but you really need to see Tango again because you missed a fair bit and Kael is an incredible writer as well as the best critic the world has ever seen, even if you disagree with her (hey to each their own but your wrong) you gotta at least see that this is an incredible pieces of writing
  • By MA
    February 04, 2011
    08:39 PM

    Octavian, I believe the the original idea for the film was to have an homosexual relationship between Paul and a young boy, but someone thought it would be too much for audiences. If that's the case, so much for mysoginistic, no?
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  • By Moira Sullivan
    February 15, 2011
    06:21 PM

    This was supposed to be 17 lengthly, but it doesn't look like it here, film critic Pauline Kael praises Last Tango, October 28, 1972, for her an epic unlike anything before, a real signature piece of the 70's...alors, Kael initially gives all credit to Bertolucci and Brando, and not to Schneider...quel dommage....she does not mention Schneider's name until more than halfway through the piece. And can you use a word like "consciencelessly". According to Schneider, her part was written for a boy, yes that is true MA- Boy oh Boy.
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  • By Moira Sullivan
    February 15, 2011
    06:22 PM

    This was supposed to be lengthy, but it doesn’t look like it here, film critic Pauline Kael praises Last Tango, October 28, 1972, for her an epic unlike anything before, a real signature piece of the 70’s…alors, Kael initially gives all credit to Bertolucci and Brando, and not to Schneider…quel dommage….she does not mention Schneider’s name until more than halfway through the piece. And can you use a word like “consciencelessly”. According to Schneider, her part was written for a boy, yes that is true MA- Boy oh Boy.
    Reply
  • By cb
    March 17, 2011
    12:22 PM

    If LTIP had been cast with a boy as Maria, the review would have had to be different, and the analysis as well. But I like it the way it was presented, that is man against woman. I would like to see it made using a boy as Maria anyway, just for the difference in viewpoints it would render.
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  • By Scrammo
    April 07, 2011
    05:16 PM

    You lost me at "ate vomit."
    Reply
  • By Joshua Hoskins
    November 03, 2011
    05:46 PM

    I love the anger that this film still conjures up in people, some forty years after it was made!
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    • By Danielle Jaussaud
      April 19, 2012
      07:23 PM

      I saw Last Tango in December 1972, and I haven't changed my mind after reading Ms. Kael's review, this movie is trash. You can make art with trash, but it's still trash. Perhaps I should first explain what rape is first. Rape is the brutal imposition of a sexual act on a physically and emotionally weaker individual. It happens mostly to women and children, but sometimes to men as well. Rape deprives the victim of her or his dignity. Rape makes the victim feel vulnerable and lose all self confidence. It makes you lose your self respect. Rape destroys a life. Some of the things Ms. Kael says are true: the violent sexual scenes feed the fantasy of middle aged macho men like Brando-Paul. Many have asked why the beautiful Jeanne returns for more abuse by this alcoholic, self-centered, failed journalist, anti-social specimen of the masculine gender? It's a dream. The dream of a middle aged, beer bellied, failed man that he will meet a young, gifted, beautiful woman who will bow to his virility, fall madly in love, and become his sex slave. It's Bertolucci's dream, maybe, but it's not the reality. Kael sees realism in Paul's character, I agree. But there is no realism in Jeanne's character. She has been bestially raped, her dignity smashed, she is traumatised for life, why would she come back for more? Kael misses who Jeanne is entirely. Jeanne is a fantasy, she does not exist. The only way I would see her come back is with a gun to kill the SOB. She does at the end, but not until she, willingly it seems, suffers more extreme humiliation. For those who think Jeanne wins in the end because she kills Paul, think again. She's endured enough trauma to last a lifetime. It's normal to want to kill the beast that has taken away your dignity and ruined your life, but killing him does not liberate her. It's a false out, you never win by killing someone, no matter what he's done to you.
  • By Granola Martha
    June 04, 2012
    02:34 AM

    Saw LTIP for first time today. I was disappointed. Yes it was shot beautifully. Yes, Brando still had a lovely face in 1972 (tho the hair-ugh, an abomination). But there was no way for me as a woman to get this movie. Jeanne was a meat puppet--no substance to her character at all. I couldn't get any traction, no purchase, on what motivated her. Bertolucci, I dare say, did not know or care. She was a blow up doll, a prop and that rather pisses me off in the way that Mailer pisses me off. I just don't like feeling invisible or like a potted plant and LTIP made me feel that way. Annoyed.
    Reply
  • By pw
    June 18, 2012
    01:23 AM

    Feminism can be ugly. This was just a movie, and whether you like it or not, art is always - even if only in the remotest circumstances- imitating life. So if you are suggesting that movies should not portray or reflect what is happening in real life, then you are waxing pollyannaism. Sorry it offends your sensibilities, but thank God art is not confined to what people like you shrills on this forum think is "acceptable"
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    • By Mark
      January 04, 2013
      01:40 AM

      Everybody run, PW the opinion nazi is here!!
  • By djl
    June 24, 2012
    09:52 PM

    I saw LTIP for the first time today even though I was 14 when it was first released and have had other opportunities to see it. I'm still processing the movie and Kael's review however, I have a few immediate comments. Brando's acting was incomparable. I didn't feel as if I was watching a fictitious character but rather an exploration of a real personality. My other comment is more about what others have commented on. Perhaps it's because I'm 54 and from another era or actually the same era as the movie - I have no problem understanding Jeanne's motivation. How many women have been in self destructive relationships that they return to again and again. She is clearly more mature than her fiancée, does not have a father other than his military uniform and boots that titillate her mother, and in walks Paul, a mature, sexually powerful man. She submits to him and surrenders to him then decides what she wants and walks/runs away. She decides against Paul and hopefully against her twit of a fiancé. I'm more concerned about her being struck by Tom in the subway than willfully submitting to Paul's anal intercourse. I'm surprised that no one mentdoned how Tom is constantly trying to manipulate Jeanne. That's the true abusive relationship.
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  • By John Sullivan
    August 06, 2012
    03:46 PM

    "When Paul is on all fours barking like crazy man-dog to scare off a Bible salesman who has come to the flat...." I own this film and I have seen it many times, but I don't remember this scene at all. It must have been cut after the premier. Also, the subplot with the maid may indicate that additional scenes were cut. I wonder if any of those outtakes still exist. So...does this mean that Tango wioll be released on Criterion soon?
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  • By chetmmd
    August 08, 2012
    11:25 PM

    I am confused about one aspect of the review - not only did I never see this 'subplot' with some hotel maid, but I think Ms Kael misidentified the actress. The versions I have seen (and I have seen several since I first discovered the film as a student in 1990 and was blown away) have Catherine Breillat, the well-known author and director giving a monologue describing the suicide of paul's wife and its aftermath, as well as describing Paul himself ("what does he do now? Nothing"). I suspect the film was worked on a little after the premier. Notice that Pauline Kael said that twenty years later, we would be arguing about 'Last Tango' well here it is forty years later, and we are still arguing about it
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  • By Rob Lawson
    September 06, 2012
    11:07 PM

    A prime example of what Sam Peckinpah referred to as Kael "cracking walnuts with her ass."
    Reply
  • By Anthony Falla
    October 04, 2012
    02:18 AM

    Every subject has an ugly side to it. I can easily understand that this film could cause uproar amongst feminists. We each interpret a subject through our own inner selves, distorted by biases and personal ideologies. For me this film is a cauldron of middle aged masculinity beautifully portrayed by Brando. He is a male going through the trauma of his wifes suicide, what we get is a brutal honesty of angst, self loathing and primal instincts that a tormented mind is capable of. Brando's portrayal is a cumulation of all his rebel characters he played throughout his career. Most of all though this is a very human story, Bertolucci wrings out profound human emotions to the point that most of us are uncomfortable by what we see and that's precisely because of the terrifying realism that we see on the screen. It serves to highlight the immutable differences between the sexes that have always existed and will always exist, I think this is the point that feminists are missing, male and female human nature have defining intrinsic characteristics and in this film those intrinsic differences are laid bare and that's what makes it so explosive.
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    • By Mark
      January 04, 2013
      01:41 AM

      A nice point put together very well.
  • By Daniel W.
    November 21, 2012
    02:47 PM

    I thought this movie was just boring. What was I supposed to learn from this film? What do the characters themselves learn? I understood what Pauline Kael was talking about in the review, but so what? I am finding that most of these "shocking" and "controversial" movies that "change the face of movies" (or what ever you want to call it) are very underwhelming. Movies like this seem to be provocative just to be provocative. This was such a disappointment.
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  • By Joseph Kafka
    November 23, 2012
    02:07 AM

    This is a beautiful work of art, Last Tango in Paris, and anyone who says otherwise has never experienced much of either. Beauty or art. Brando draws us into the deeper places of his own imagination. Much that we experience as Paul is, in fact, probably Brando, and the whole point is that the two (ie, character and actor; artistic object and paid subject) are really indistinguishable. Much in Paul's description of his childhood, growing up with a drunk mother digging ditches, matches Brando's own biography and reflects exactly the kind of blurring of art and reality is at the heart of great film (and literature and philosophy). One poster mentioned, by way of criticism, that Jeanne exists only in Paul's mind. That she is his post-wife-suicide fantasy. This feels right to me, too, though it is not a criticism, nor would it be critical to suggest that he may also be her fantasy. Her fantasy as an Oedipal/Electra-type father who she must, in the end, purge because he (or her fantasy of him) are simply too powerful, too shameful, and too real to countenance in herself. Paul and Jeanne are the broken mirrors of one another (another great Bertolucci trope), because the only way to really see themselves is to escape altogether.
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    • By Daniel W.
      November 23, 2012
      03:06 PM

      I have experienced both beauty and art. My problem with this film is that it had absolutely no effect on me. What was I supposed to learn from this film? I don't mean that I was supposed to gain a gigantic moral from this movie, but what about human sexuality is to be gained from this film? To me this was a movie about an old man having a relationship with a young woman focused only on sex and how the characters work out their frustrations through the act of sex (I hardly think that is groundbreaking or enlightening even when this film was first released). I also think that human sexuality is a subject that is examined too often and too carelessly. I think that filmmakers put their own opinions of sexuality on film rather than examine how it actually goes. Look, you have your own ideas about this film and that is OK. but you should not go and say that anyone who doesn't like this film has not experienced beauty or art. That is quite condescending. There can be no conversation when you start with a comment like that.
  • By Film-buff
    December 23, 2012
    04:31 PM

    From Maria Schneider's obit in NYT: The famous scene, she said, was not in the script and made it into the film only at Brando’s insistence. “I felt humiliated, and to be honest I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci,” she said. “After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.”
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  • By Boab
    January 26, 2013
    07:48 PM

    Trying to build, or uphold Feminism or any other type of ideal for that matter, in art, is totally contrived. Calling something misogynistic is equally as ignorant. People just have to apply their dumb conventional boxes to everything. Only two frames of reference, it's either this or that. Yes, it may indulge male fantasy, but no sane person would say it glorifies it. We see Paul as a deeply lonely, tortured and violent. In the end he sadly believes he has fallen in love and literally chases the girl down. We are all, even Jeanne, aware that she has been brutalised. But I would say she is totally complicit in this sexual brutalisation. Come on ladies, admit that this film indulges your fantasy aswell.
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    • By Allison
      May 21, 2014
      02:51 PM

      You need a serious wake up call if you think we fantasize about being anally raped with butter and violently humiliated/debased by a nasty middle-aged man. This is why Jeanne's character is not remotely believable at all. Why would a beautiful 19-year-old girl want anything to do with such a bitter, angry, sadistic ugly old guy? It would be more understandable how he got her in the sack if he was at least smooth and charming, but he isn't even that. So what is it about this fellow that has captivated her to the point where she was willing to become his masochistic sex slave? The film is nothing more than wish fulfillment on Bertolucci's part, the Jeanne/Paul pairing bears no relation to reality whatsoever.
  • By Daniel W.
    January 26, 2013
    08:37 PM

    I would argue that that this review of Kael's made it sound like the movie of the century and yet the review turned out to be more impressive than the actual movie.
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    • By Ed L.
      October 07, 2013
      06:55 PM

      "The review turned out to be more impressive than the actual movie." I found both to be tedious beyond all endurance.
  • By Mark Taylor
    February 21, 2014
    12:35 PM

    If I'd seen it when it first came out I would have been bowled over. From today's perspective, it looks like Monty Python's French Existentialism Movie.
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