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“The Conformist,” Bertolucci’s 1970 study of the human desire to conform to society. Set in the 1930’s, as Hitler and Mussolini have a grip on Europe, people start picking sides. Beautifully shot by Vittorio Storaro (I have his autograph!!!), and costumes by Gitt Magrini.

Marcello Clerici, Jean-Louis Trintignant, son of an aristocratic Italian family, rebels by trying to join the fascist secret police. His father is in an insane asylum, and his mother, a morphine addict, is in a veritable asylum herself. She lives in a broken-down decrepit estate, which represents the decadent, decaying class system.

The film abounds with repetitive imagery, driving home the conforming nature of society, whether it be a democratic one or a socialist one. Repeating windows, or benches, or lines, the sense of unending, and expected sameness.

the conformist windows

Dark, cold, devoid of human emotion.

the conformist stairs

the conformist asylum

the conformist window pane

The repetition in the window is obvious, but all the nuts that this guy cracks in his office while giving Marcello his assignment, is strangely funny.

the conformist stained glass window

The visual theme of repetition is present in the opposing side, with the warm tones and the green plants contrasting the dark, cold fascist interiors.

Marcello meets his old professor in Paris. Professor Quadri has been targeted by the secret police, and Marcello has been picked to pull the trigger.

the conformist stefania sandrelli

Marcello becomes obsessed with Professor Quadri’s wife, Anna. Bertolucci has said that it’s Marcello’s latent homosexuality that makes him want to conform so badly, but it seems his obsession with Anna is genuine. The dude is just cornfused.

Marcello reviews Plato’s cave myth, which was his senior thesis in the Professor’s class.

the conformist Jean-Louis Trintignant
Marcello is in the dark, ignorance, and his professor, in the light, knowledge.
the conformist Dominique Sanda

Giulia, Marcello’s new bride, is just a box to checked off in his life. No real connection to her.

the conformist Stefania Sandrelli 2

It’s funny that Anna, is wearing this leopard wrap. She is like a cagey wild animal, primal and aggressive. In the last scene she is chased and hunted down by the secret police like a wild animal in the woods.

the conformist sandrelli sanda

It could be a Valentino ad, non?

the conformist stefania sandrelli dominique sanda

Don’t you LOVE this black and white dress on Giulia?

the conformist stefania sandrelli dominique sanda

Here it is from the back. Giulia is from a world of absolutes, everything is black or white. Anna dress is neither yellow or white, but somewhere in between, just like her sexuality and her loyalties.

the conformist stefania sandrelli

Here’s Anna’s dress from the front. I want those earrings!

the conformist stefania sandrelli dominique sanda dance

And here’s the most memorable image of the film in all its Sapphic glory.

the conformist jean-louis trintignant

Marcello, in the midst of exuberant humanity, does not know how to act or relate.

the conformist car

Marcello on his way to watch Anna and the professor’s murder. He can’t pull the trigger. Is he a coward or is he smart getting others to do it? The fog represents the gray area between good and evil, neither the dark nor the light.

the conformist trintignant sandrelli

The second most famous shot in the film. Anna lets out a primal scream for help while Marcello impotently watches the inevitable.

Flashforward to 1943, Mussolini is about to be dragged through the streets, and all of a sudden people aren’t fascist anymore. Marcello included. He denounces it and outs his blind friend Italo as one. A mob quickly sweeps Italo up in a human wave.

Plato’s cave imagery returns in the last shot with Marcello, sitting in a cave-like structure next to a small fire, looking behind him instead of the shadows in front of him like Plato’s prisoners. Has he finally learned to think for himself?

the conformist Jean-Louis Trintingnant

the conformist jean-louis trintignant

In light of recent tragic events in Boston, we sit shellshocked and horrified and wonder, why and how could someone enact such a thing?