Dec. 3, 2005
Last Tango in Paris (1972)
Grade: 64/100

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Stars: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Jean-Pierre Leaud

What it's about. Young and beautiful Jeanne (Maria Schneider) has two lovers, misanthropic American Marlon Brando, and pretentious film director Tom (Jean-Pierre Leaud).

Brando's wife Rosa has recently committed suicide. His mourning for her, and Jeanne's engagement to Tom, doesn't prevent Brando or Jeanne from having uncomfortable sex on appointment each day (?) in an empty apartment.

How others will see it. This interesting art film is partly French, and partly English. Even those who normally despise subtitled films may be enticed by Last Tango in Paris, thanks to the occasionally naked presence of childlike hottie Schneider, and Brando's curious, moody performance. The movie also features a jazz score that only adds to its surreal nature.

How I felt about it. We know its a movie when Jeanne allows an odd-behaving man more than twice her age to engage in sex with her against the wall of an apartment during their first meeting. We know its a movie when a woman's lover makes a deal to film her for television without notifying her until filming begins. And she goes along with it.

It's all very strange. Brando visits the man he knows was having an affair with his dead wife, and this casual, friendly visit ends with the boyfriend performing chin ups to impress the widower.

Jeanne's boyfriend throws a punch at her in the subway. She punches back. Their fight ends with embracing, and their engagement is set in their next scene together.

Brando ends the vacant apartment trysts with Jeanne, but then stalks her. She tries to break up with him, relents, agrees to be his cow, then is so eager to be rid of him that she shoots him.

It's a strange movie. Characters speak French or English depending on their mood. Jeanne changes her hairstyle and dress halfway throughout. Brando changes his mind about their relationship, from impersonal sexual encounters to a room together at his flophouse. Or perhaps, in a country cottage.

This film, which should be titled Strange Days in France, is nonetheless quite watchable, and even has a plot, although events seem to be packed too tight. Jeanne is the same feisty yet submissive lover to both Brando and Tom, but her two lovers here have little in common, and don't know each other. Tom is young, enthusiastic, and optimistic. Brando is middle-aged, dissipated, and distracted.

Brando was a huge star in 1973, flush from his success with The Godfather. He won an Oscar for that film, and received a Best Actor nod for Last Tango in Paris, a surprise since he had snubbed the Academy the year before, sending a Hispanic actress posing as an Indian to pick up his trophy.