The 64th Cannes Film Festival kicked off yesterday with the screening of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.
While for the next ten days we will see directors, actors and actresses battling for the coveted Palme d'Or, there is already a winner, Bernardo Bertolucci.
The Italian director received from the jury, headed this year by Robert De Niro, the honorary Palme d'Or, dedicating it to "all Italians who still have the strength and energy to struggle, criticise and be indignant."
It is therefore very apt to look back at Bertolucci's career and films and maybe briefly analyse some of his works from the point of view of fashion and style.
Italian writer, poet and director Pier Paolo Pasolini described young Bernardo Bertolucci in his poem “Ad un Ragazzo” (To a Boy) as a young, humble and shy man, who often used to sit down with older people and carefully listen to what was being debated around him.
Born in Parma in 1941, Bertolucci showed his passion for films from a very young age and, between 1956 and 1957, shot two silent films, “La teleferica” (The cable car) and “La morte del maiale” (The pig’s death).
Bertolucci first met Pasolini in Rome: at the time he was 15 and the poet was living in the same building as Bertolucci’s family.
The first encounter was rather bizarre: on a Sunday afternoon Bertolucci went to open the door and found a man who asked to see his father. He looked a bit rough and Bertolucci thought he was a thief, so he just shut him out without saying a word. Attilio Bertolucci and Pasolini were indeed good friends (Attilio had helped a very young Pasolini to publish his first novel) and soon the friendship extended also to Attilio’s son Bernardo.
Reminiscing about his friendship with Pasolini, Bertolucci once stated, “As soon as I finished writing poems I would run downstairs to the second floor – we lived on the fifth floor – where Pier Paolo lived. I rang his door and if Pier Paolo was home, I immediately had him read them…In a certain way I even saw Pier Paolo as a paternal figure…I tended…to absorb his way of seeing reality and even a little of his style. There are certain poems of mine that I believe were never published because they were very Pasolinian, really written in Pasolini’s style.”
In 1961 Pasolini offered Bertolucci the chance of working as assistant director on his first film, Accattone (The Procurer).
Yet, once he finished the latter, Pasolini decided to move on and focus on another story that later on became Mamma Roma (Mamma Roma, 1962), so he suggested Cervi to ask Bertolucci and writer/director Sergio Citti to work on the screenplay for the film he wanted to produce. Cervi was so enthusiastic about the screenplay that he asked Bertolucci to direct the film.
Released in 1962 La commare secca (The Grim Reaper) was dubbed by critics as “a Pasolinian film without Pasolini”.
The story took place in Rome's suburbs and the main characters were the so-called ragazzi di vita, local juvenile delinquents, so the place and the protagonists somehow reminded of the characters that populated Pasolini’s universe.
Yet, Bertolucci tried hard to detach himself from Pasolini’s realist approach and find his own way of shooting and narrating the story.
Prima della rivoluzione (Before the Revolution) followed in 1964, and in the same year the film represented Italy at the Cannes Film Festival. It was another flop and four frustrating yet very active years passed (during them he shot a documentary for Italian TV, "La via del petrolio"; the segment “Agonia” (Agony) for the film Amore e rabbia and wrote with Dario Argento and Sergio Leone the screenplay for C’era una volta il West) before his next proper film, Partner (Partner, 1968), followed by the psychological thriller La Strategia del ragno (The Spider’s Stratagem, 1970).
Il Conformista (The Conformist), taken from a famous novel by Alberto Moravia, was released in 1970 and nominated in 1972 for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
Bertolucci’s next film, Ultimo tango a Parigi (Last Tango in Paris, 1972), caused a huge scandal in Italy. An Italian court even revoked Bertolucci's civil rights for five years and gave him a four-month suspended prison sentence.
Many years after, in 1987, after the censorship commission was abolished, the film reappeared and was screened in a different version, with fewer cuts.
Four years later Bertolucci went back to political cinema with a film about class struggles and the conflicts between peasants and landowners, Novecento (1900, 1976), followed by La Luna (Luna, 1979) and La tragedia di un uomo ridicolo (Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man, 1981).
L’ultimo imperatore (The Last Emperor, 1987) – winner of nine Academy Awards in 1988, among them also the award for Best Director, the first award given to an Italian – marked the beginning of Bertolucci’s trilogy of blockbusters that continued with Il tè nel deserto (The Sheltering Sky, 1990) and Piccolo Buddha (Little Buddha, 1993).
In the mid-90s he directed Io ballo da sola (Stealing Beauty, 1996), L’assedio (Besieged, 1998) and a film about the youth movement and the 1968 protests, I sognatori (The Dreamers, 1998).
Yesterday Bertolucci announced in Cannes that he is planning to shoot his next film, Io e Te (Me and You), in 3-D since he is fascinated not only by blockbusters like Avatar but also by films such as Pina Bausch by Wim Wenders (who also shot in 3-D his film with architectural firm SANAA) and Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog.
Bertolucci’s most fashionable film remains The Conformist: through it the director etched a rich, complex and multi-textured portrait of Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) part of the decadent middle-class that supported the Fascist regime.
To conform to the society he lives in, Clerici murders not only his former professor, but also the latter’s wife.
The story of Bertolucci’s Il Conformista is much more complex than the story in his previous films.
The plot is not linear but it is characterised by continuous flashbacks and reliance upon psychoanalytic theories.
The story also proceeds through a sort of accumulation of different elements and themes: love and sex; fascism/anti-fascism; the influence of a father figure in Clerici's life; the past that comes back; the theme of the journey with its traumatising arrival and departure phases, and ambiguity (see the famous tango scene between the wife and the mistress, Giulia and Anna, with its quickly shifting camera angles, graceful motions and skilful editing).
This elegant film, meticulously photographed by Vittorio Storaro (who took the choreographed style of the musicals and melodramas Bertolucci admires and applied them to the director’s story), was, according to Bertolucci, informed by the memories of American and French films from the ‘30s.
The bedroom in Il Conformista reminds of the bedroom in Flesh and The World Moves On by John Ford, while the film is also indebted to the poetic style of Josef von Sternberg, Max Ophüls and Orson Welles (when Marcello visits Professor Quadri for the first time, the shadows of the two men talking are projected on the wall; oblique frames characterise the scenes before Quadri’s murder and the house of Marcello’s mother looks like a typical house from the ‘30s).
In the US, The Conformist was named by the National Board of Review as one of the five best foreign-language film of 1971, the year of its American release, and last year it reached number 13 in The Guardian's chart of the 25 best arthouse films of all times.
The film also inspired Francis Ford Coppola (who hired Storaro for Apocalypse Now), Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Paul Schrader (who hired The Conformist’s production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti and had his cinematographer John Bailey emulate the film lighting).
As stated in a previous post, there have been recent fashion collections inspired by The Conformist, a film that often resurfaces in the mood boards of different fashion designers.
One of the strongest links between this film and fashion is Versace.
During the 1998 Florence Biennale, ten Italian fashion houses were called to restore a film that for its atmosphere and costumes represented an inspiration for them.
Versace chose Bertolucci's Il Conformista not only for its style, but also because it somehow reminded the members of the Versace family of the time when, as kids, Gianni and his brother and sister went to the afternoon shows at the cinema in Reggio Calabria.
In more recent years Missoni's Autumn/Winter 2008/09 campaign (shot by Steven Meisel and featuring models Iselin Steiro, Kinga Rajzak and Mathias Lauridsen) also moved from the elegant yet oppressive atmospheres of The Conformist.
If you're London-based or London-bound, you can celebrate Bertolucci by joining the second part of the retrospective dedicated to him, currently on at the BFI.
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos