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Last Tango in Paris


Year: 1972 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: Unknown 
Certificate: BBFC 18 Cert – Not suitable for under 18s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from Last Tango in Paris

Director: Barnado Bartolucci

Starring: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Maria Michi

Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris is most certainly not about dancing.Whilst looking for an apartment, Jeanne (Maria Schneider) encounters American expatriate Paul (Marlon Brando), who proceeds to brutally rape her. Jeanne’s eventual compliance in the act develops into an affair based purely on passion. This is emphasised by Paul’s assertion ‘No names here’, as the opportunity for intimacy and identities are sacrificed in favour of sexual experimentation in seclusion from society, climaxing in the infamous ‘butter scene’.

The pair regularly meet in the apartment for the purpose of sexual relations. Jeanne makes her body available, almost with detachment, allowing Paul to indulge in forbidden sex (sodomy and masturbation). The film juxtaposes sexual freedom and psychological repression, with the relationship fulfilling two completely different needs. Jeanne is unexcited with fiancé, Tom (Jean-Pierre Leaud), whilst Paul is in mourning, desiring to force his manhood upon a stranger in the wake of his assumed failure with his wife. Due to this, Paul soon desires more than Jeanne’s body as he struggles to cope with his situation, deviating from his initial belief in secrecy.

On the surface, Last Tango appears to focus upon the sexually explicit content, content that provoked such comments as, ‘Betolucci and Brando have altered the face of an art form’ (Pauline Kael), and subsequently led to the film being regarded as a breakthrough for cinema. However, the transgressive nature of the film may equally be attributed to the Freudian relation of Jeanne’s psyche to her father, and political implications within the text, the former of which is a trend throughout the work of Bertolucci (Spider’s Strategem, The Conformist).

Last Tango is perhaps Brando’s finest performance. In 1972, Roger Ebert asked, ‘Who else can act so brutally and imply such vulnerability and need?’ The answer: nobody. Hollywood’s most infamous narcissistic actor proves to be a multi-layered and multi-talented actor in Last Tango, a film that stands as a true cinematic achievement and a boundary-pushing classic.

James Cotton

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Screenings of this film:

1975/1976 Spring Term (16mm)
1975/1976 Spring Term (16mm)
1985/1986 Autumn Term (35mm)
2007/2008 Autumn Term (35mm)