Conformist, The (UK - BD RB)
Our Marcus watches this Bernardo Bertolucci classic on Blu-ray disc...
1938. Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a young fascist who takes on the job of assassinating his former professor who has fled to Paris. A thriller as well as study of Italian politics and psychological character, Bernardo Bertolucci's Oscar nominated adaptation of the Alberto Moravia novel arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Academy.
I’d never seen The Conformist before, so this won’t be a review coming from someone with a life long admiration of Bernardo Bertolucci's work or really knowing the importance of this film in the history of cinema, nor will I try to cover my lack of knowledge on the director by spouting facts I’ve read off the internet (which viewing this film led me to do). I’m a newbie to The Conformist and this Blu-ray release is my first step into the much admired seventies film.
I won't lie, The Conformist was a struggle at first. Not only is the out of sync dialogue distracting but the unconventional structure that comes with flashbacks within flashbacks and the cutting between time frames makes this a keep up or fall behind sort of affair. Those out there who like their storytelling straight forward and struggled with movies like Memento aren’t going to find this an easy watch.
Once you get over all that and settle into the immediate atmosphere generated here and the visual delights of The Conformist, it doesn’t take long to realise that this film is almost a blueprint for modern cinema. Bertolucc's approach to storytelling, with his editing choices, experimental use of lighting and the images he creates within every frame have echoes in all the great modern director’s work. There are hints of Scorsese, the Coens, Coppola and, well almost everyone worth their salt and watching The Conformist, there’s a real sense the influence it's had on film whether the audience know it or not.
Its not just imagery through, small character traits feel timeless and highlight how current filmmakers are trying to emulate this approach. There’s no sense that the mixed bag of characters in this forty year old film have dated. The quirks and interactions sometimes feel romanticized and heightened but always very real, almost as if the human condition has been caught under a microscope and those moments that go unnoticed elsewhere are celebrated here. Oddities, passions and internal flaws are all on show and its very easy to see why Bernardo Bertolucci has the respect and admiration from all those who love cinema. For many this may not be an enjoyable watch as the current climate in film, especially popular film, is to spell out everything as simply and as cleanly as possible and The Conformist isn't going to do that but for those who adore moments and atmosphere and technique in film, The Conformist may very well float your boat.
Well for fantastic imagary edited in wonderful ways this disc has plenty on offer but for the most part this transfer is fairly weak in showcasing it. The disc certainly shows the restoration of the HD upgrade but it never escapes the age limitations of the print. By modern standards this disc simply doesn't look very good. Everything feels like it's through a gauze, its a bit pasty, very soft and never offers anything in the way of impressive HD pizazz. That said, the 40 year old colours feel quite alive and elements of detail do not feel aged at all, especially when naturally lit. Textures on clothes, tiny elements in close ups and wider external shots look wonderful despite the age of the film. Really the best and worst of this transfer comes down to two extremes. The warm autumnal coloured scenes vs. the blue filtered cold winter Paris scenes. The brighter shots have a whole lot of charm with a natural brightness despite the limitations and the duller scenes feels aged, unloved and about as good as a DVD.
As I mentioned earlier the dialogue here is out of sync and obviously recorded after the scenes were shot. Because of this all spoken word feels disconnected from the film and too clear and strong on the track to ever feel completely right. Never having seen the film before I don't know if this is how it's always been but it creates a weird feel to the film for the most part.
The atmospheric, almost haunting score is nice and strong, even with the track's mono limitations and there's the odd bit of ambient sound that slightly pushes the boundaries. Generally though, this feels like a dated track that's simply slightly enhanced for Blu-ray.
Here is where the disc really found its feet. The David Forgacs commentary track is a master class in all things The Conformist, comparing the original book to the film and everything in between. Sure, a lot of the time the track can feel like it's describing the scenes but the expansion on this is a thorough study of the film and an absolute must for anyone wanting to know more about it.
'Bernardo Bertolucci: Reflections on Cinema' (51:32 SD) begins with a wonderful interview snippet with Bertolucci commenting on his approach to cinema and for the rest of the runtime we are given an entire career's worth of interview footage from various years and sources making for a great insight into the director from the man himself.
There's also a DVD copy thrown in for good measure in this 'Dual Format' edition.
The Conformist is pure cinema and on a technical level the experimental approach to telling a story has obviously kept film makers trying to capture what Bernardo Bertolucci achieves here. That said, this isn't going to be for everyone and certainly not for those who like film to stick to a formula. The disc itself looks and sounds okay considering the age of the film but don't pick up this Blu-ray expecting miracles. That said, anyone wanting more insight into the film and the director should be pretty happy with the extras here.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 27th February 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Mono Italian
Extras: Commentary, Bernardo Bertolucci: Reflections on Cinema
Easter Egg: No
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin
Length: 112 minutes
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