ⓘ The Conformist (1970 film)


ⓘ The Conformist (1970 film)

The Conformist is a 1970 political drama film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, whose screenplay is based on the 1951 novel The Conformist by Alberto Moravia. The film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin, Enzo Tarascio, Fosco Giachetti, Jose Quaglio, Dominique Sanda and Pierre Clementi. The film was a co-production of Italian, French, and West German film companies.

Bertolucci makes use of the 1930s art and decor associated with the Fascist era: the middle-class drawing rooms and the huge halls of the ruling elite.


1. Plot

In Paris, Marcello Clerici finalizes his preparations in assassinating his former college professor, Luca Quadri. It frequently returns to the interior of a car driven by Manganiello as the two of them pursue the professor and his wife.

Through a series of flashbacks, he is seen discussing with his blind friend Italo his plans to marry, his somewhat awkward attempts to join the Fascist secret police, and his visits to his parents: a morphine-addicted mother at the familys decaying villa, and his unhinged father at an insane asylum.

In another flashback, Marcello is seen as a boy during World War I, who finds himself in his familys wealth. He is humiliated by his schoolmates until he is rescued by Lino, a chauffeur. Lino offers to show him a pistol and then makes sexual advances towards Marcello, which he partially responds to before grabbing the pistol and shooting wildly into the walls and into Lino, then flees from the scene of what he assumes is a murder.

In another flashback, Marcello and his fiancee Giulia discuss the necessity of his going to confession, even though he is an atheist, in order for her Roman Catholic parents to allow them to marry. Marcello agrees and, in confession, admits to the priest to have committed many grave sins, including his homosexual intercourse with and subsequent murder of Lino, premarital sex, and his absence of guilt for these sins. Marcello admits he thinks little of his new wife but craves the normality that a traditional marriage with children will bring. The priest is shocked - and pruriently interested in Marcellos homosexual experience - but quickly absolves Marcello once he hears that he is currently working for the Fascist secret police, called Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism.

Marcello finds himself ordered to assassinate his old acquaintance and teacher, Professor Quadri, an outspoken anti-Fascist intellectual now living in exile in France. Using his honeymoon as a convenient cover, he takes Giulia to Paris where he can carry out the mission.

While visiting Quadri he falls in love with Anna, the professors young wife, and pursues her. Although it becomes clear that she and her husband are aware of Marcellos Fascist sympathies and the danger he presents to them, she responds to his advances, as well as forming a close attachment to Giulia, towards whom she also makes sexual advances. Giulia and Anna dress extravagantly and go to a dance hall with their husbands where Marcellos commitment to the fascists is tested by Quadri. Manganiello is also at the dance hall, having been following Marcello for some time and doubtful of his intentions. Marcello secretly returns the gun that he has been given and gives Manganiello the location of Quadris country house where the couple plan to go the following day.

Even though Marcello has warned Anna not to go to the country with her husband and has apparently persuaded her to stay in Paris with him, she does make the car journey. On a deserted woodland road, Fascist agents conspire to stop Quadris car with a fake accident scene. When Quadri attempts to help the apparently stricken driver, he is attacked and stabbed to death by several men who appear from the woods. Anna watches her husband being murdered with horror. When the men turn their attention to her, she runs to the car behind for help. When Anna sees that the passenger in the rear of the car is Marcello and realizes his betrayal, she begins to scream uncontrollably, before running into the woods to escape the men trying to kill her. Marcello watches without emotion as she is pursued through the woods and finally shot to death. Manganiello walks away from the car for a cigarette, disgusted with what he sees as Marcellos cowardice in not shooting Anna when she ran to their car.

The ending of the film takes place in 1943 as the resignation of Benito Mussolini and the fascist dictatorship is announced. Marcello now has a small child and is apparently settled in a conventional lifestyle. He is called by Italo, his blind friend and former Fascist, and asked to meet on the streets. While walking with Italo, they overhear a conversation between two men in the act of picking each other up, and Marcello recognizes one of them as Lino, the man who seduced him when he was a boy and whom he had thought he had murdered. Marcello publicly denounces Lino as a Fascist, homosexual, and for murdering Professor Quadri and his wife. In his frenzy, he also denounces his friend Italo as a fascist. As a monarchist political crowd sweeps past, taking Italo with them, Marcello is left alone, remaining behind and separate from the passing crowd of the new movement, and having spurned his former friend. He sits near a small fire and stares intently behind him at the young man Lino had been talking to.


2. Themes

The film is a case study in the psychology of conformism and fascism: Marcello Clerici is a bureaucrat, cultivated and intellectual but largely dehumanized by an intense need to be normal and to belong to whatever is the current dominant socio-political group. He grew up in an upper class, perhaps dysfunctional family, and he suffered a major childhood sexual trauma and gun violence episode in which he long believed erroneously that he had killed his chauffeur. He accepts an assignment from Benito Mussolinis secret police to assassinate his former mentor, living in exile in Paris. In Trintignants characterization, Clerici is willing to sacrifice his values in the interests of building a supposedly "normal life."

According to the political philosopher Takis Fotopoulos, The Conformist as well as Rhinoceros by Ionesco is "a beautiful portrait of this psychological need to conform and be normal at the social level, in general, and the political level, in particular."

According to the documentary Visions of Light the film is widely praised as a visual masterpiece. It was photographed by Vittorio Storaro, who used rich colors, authentic wardrobe of the 1930s, and a series of unusual camera angles and fluid camera movement. Film critic and author Robin Buss writes that the cinematography suggests Clericis inability to conform with "normal" reality: the reality of the time is "abnormal." Also, Bertoluccis cinematic style synthesizes expressionism and "fascist" film aesthetics. Its style has been compared with classic German films of the 1920s and 1930s, such as in Leni Riefenstahls Triumph of the Will and Fritz Langs Metropolis.

In 2013, Interiors, an online journal concerned with the relationship between architecture and film, released an issue that discussed how space is used in a scene that takes place on the Palazzo dei Congressi. The issue highlights the use of architecture in the film, pointing out that in order to understand the film itself, its essential to understand the history of the EUR district in Rome and its deep ties with fascism.


3. Production

The filming locations included Gare dOrsay and Paris, France; Sant Angelo Bridge and the Colosseum, both in Rome. Lead actor Trintignant learned his Italian-language lines phonetically, and per common practice in the Italian film industry at the time, was later dubbed over by another actor, Sergio Graziani.

The film was influential on other filmmakers: the image of blowing leaves in The Conformist, for example, influenced a very similar scene in The Godfather, Part II 1974 by Francis Ford Coppola. Additionally, the scene in which Dominique Sanda is chased through the snowy woods after her husband has been murdered, is echoed with mood, lighting and setting in a third-season episode of The Sopranos, "Pine Barrens", directed by Steve Buscemi.


4. Distribution

The film premiered at the 20th Berlin International Film Festival on 1 July 1970, where it competed for the Golden Bear. However, due to the row over the participation of Michael Verhoevens anti-war film o.k., the festival was closed down three days later and no prizes were awarded.

The film had a staggered release in Italy, opening in major cities in the early months of 1971: Milan on 29 January, Turin on 5 February and Rome on 25 March, for example. In the United States, the film screened at the New York Film Festival on 18 September 1970 and was given a limited release in select cities the following spring, opening in New York and Los Angeles in April 1971, and Chicago and Washington D.C. in May 1971. The first American release of the film was trimmed by five minutes compared to the Italian release; the missing scene features a group of blind people having a dance. They were restored in the 1996 reissue.

The film was released in the United States on DVD by Paramount Home Entertainment on 5 December 2006. The DVD includes: the original theatrical version runtime 111 minutes; The Rise of The Conformist: The Story, the Cast featurette; Shadow and Light: Filming The Conformist featurette; The Conformist: Breaking New Ground featurette.

In 2011 the Cineteca di Bologna commissioned a 2K restoration of The Conformist, supervised by Storaro himself and approved by Bertolucci, which screened in the Cannes Classics series on May 11, 2011, in conjunction with the presentation of an honorary Palme dOr to Bertolucci. The restoration was done by Minerva Pictures-Rarovideo USA and LImmagine Ritrovata laboratory of the Cineteca di Bologna. In 2014 the digital restoration was released theatrically by Kino Lorber in North America, and released on Blu-ray by Rarovideo USA on November 25, 2014.


5. Critical response

Vincent Canby, film critic for The New York Times, liked Bertoluccis screenplay and his directorial effort, and wrote, "Bernardo Bertolucci.has at last made a very middle-class, almost conventional movie that turns out to be one of the elegant surprises of the current New York Film Festival.It is also apparent in Bertoluccis cinematic style, which is so rich, poetic, and baroque that it is simply incapable of meaning only what it says.The movie is perfectly cast, from Trintignant and on down, including Pierre Clementi, who appears briefly as the wicked young man who makes a play for the young Marcello. The Conformist is flawed, perhaps, but those very flaws may make it Bertoluccis first commercially popular film, at least in Europe where there always seems to be a market for intelligent, upper middle-class decadence." A review in Variety stated, "For those who appreciate its subtleties, but also its subsurface power and great evocative qualities, its a gem." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "much more of a show than a story," with its narrative themes "all but lost amid Bertoluccis splendid recreation of the era. In other words, if you are looking for fashion and furnishing hints, this is the place." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times declared that the film "places young Bernardo Bertolucci in the front ranks of Italian directors and among the finest film-makers working anywhere. In this dazzling film, Bertolucci, 30, manages to combine the bravura style of a Fellini, the acute sense of period of a Visconti and the fervent political commitment of an Elio Petri Investigation of a Private Citizen with complete individuality and, better still, a total lack of self-indulgence." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post said that the film was "an extraordinarily beautiful and spellbinding picture," but "whats below the surface doesnt stand up to much analysis. I think this is true and that it amounts to a terrible flaw. The dramatic material, while intriguing, isnt adequately developed: many connecting or explanatory scenes appear to be missing reading the original novel by Alberto Moravia restores some of these, the psychology of the most complex characters is murky, and the climactic and concluding scenes are positively trite." Jan Dawson of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "In his screen adaptation of Moravias novel, Bertolucci has eliminated all explanations or analysed motivations, as well as any allusions to Marcellos life before the moment he first sees Lino. The effort of these changes, in purely psychological terms, is to reduce Marcellos story to a model Freudian case history."

In 1994 critic James Berardinelli wrote a review and heralded the films look. He wrote, "Storaro and Bertolucci have fashioned a visual masterpiece in The Conformist, with some of the best use of light and shadow ever in a motion picture. This isnt just photography, its art - powerful, beautiful, and effective. Theres a scene in the woods, with sunlight streaming between trees, thats breathtaking to behold - and all the more stunning because of the brutal events that take place before this background."

In a 2012 article in The Guardian, John Patterson defined the movie as an "expressionist masterpiece", which "offered a blueprint for a new kind of Hollywood film," inspiring New Hollywood film makers.

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 98% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 53 reviews.


6. Awards


  • David di Donatello Awards: David; Best Film, Maurizio Lodi-Fe; 1971.
  • Belgian Film Critics Association: Grand Prix; 1972.
  • Satellite Awards: Satellite Award: Best Classic DVD; 2006.
  • National Society of Film Critics Awards: NSFC Award; Best Cinematography, Vittorio Storaro; Best Director, Bernardo Bertolucci; 1972.
  • Berlin Film Festival: Interfilm Award - Recommendation and Journalists Special Award, Bernardo Bertolucci; 1970.


  • Golden Globes: Golden Globe; Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film Italy; 1972.
  • Berlin Film Festival: Golden Berlin Bear, Bernardo Bertolucci; 1970.
  • Academy Awards: Oscar; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Bernardo Bertolucci; 1972.