Last Tango in Paris
|Last Tango in Paris|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Bernardo Bertolucci|
|Produced by||Alberto Grimaldi|
|Written by||Bernardo Bertolucci
Agnès Varda (French dialogues)
|Story by||Bernardo Bertolucci|
|Music by||Gato Barbieri|
|Editing by||Franco Arcalli
|Studio||PEA Predozioni Europee Associate S.A.S.
Les Productions Artistes Associes S.A.
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Running time||129 minutes
250 minutes (original cut)
Last Tango in Paris (Italian: Ultimo tango a Parigi) is a 1972 Franco-Italian romantic drama film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci which portrays a recent American widower who begins an anonymous sexual relationship with a young, betrothed Parisian woman. It stars Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, and Jean-Pierre Léaud.
The film's raw portrayal of sexual violence and emotional turmoil led to international controversy and drew various levels of government censorship. The MPAA gave the film an X rating upon release in the United States. After revisions were made to the MPAA ratings code, it was re-classified NC-17 in 1997. MGM released a censored R-rated cut in 1981. The film has its NC-17 rating for "some explicit sexual content."
Paul, a middle-aged American hotel owner mourning his wife's suicide, meets a young, engaged Parisian woman named Jeanne in an apartment that both are interested in renting. They proceed to have an anonymous sexual relationship in the apartment, and Paul demands that neither of them share any personal information, not even their names. The affair goes on until one day Jeanne comes to the apartment to find that Paul has packed up and left without warning.
Paul later meets Jeanne on the street and says he wants to renew the relationship. He tells her of the recent tragedy with his wife, and the telling of his life story carries them to a tango bar, where he continues telling her about himself. The loss of anonymity disillusions Jeanne about their relationship, and she tells Paul she does not want to see him again. Paul, not wanting to let Jeanne go, chases her back to her apartment, where he tells her he loves her and wants to know her name.
Jeanne takes a gun from a drawer. She tells Paul her name and shoots him. Paul staggers out onto the balcony, mortally wounded, and collapses. As Paul dies, a dazed Jeanne mutters to herself that he was just a stranger who tried to rape her, that she did not know who he was, as if in a rehearsal, preparing herself for questioning by the police.
- Marlon Brando as Paul, an American expatriate and hotel owner
- Maria Schneider as Jeanne, a young Parisian girl
- Jean-Pierre Léaud as Tom, a film director and Jeanne's fiance
- Massimo Girotti as Marcel, Rosa's former lover
- Veronica Lazar as Rosa, Paul's deceased wife
- Maria Michi as Rosa's mother
- Catherine Allégret as Catherine, a maid at Paul and Rosa's hotel
- Darling Légitimus as the Concierge
- Gitt Magrini as Jeanne's mother
- Luce Marquand as Olympia
- Mauro Marchetti as the TV cameraman
- Dan Diament as the TV sound engineer
- Catherine Sola as the script girl
- Peter Schommer as the TV assistant cameraman
- Giovanna Galletti as a Prostitute, an old acquaintance of Rosa
- Armand Abplanalp as the Prostitute's client
- Marie-Hélène Breillat as Monique
- Catherine Breillat as Mouchette
- Rachel Kesterber as Christine
- Ramón Mendizábal as the Tango Orchestra Leader
- Mimi Pinson as the President of Tango Jury
- Gérard Lepennec as the tall furniture mover
- Stéphane Koziak as the short furniture mover
- Deleted scenes
- Michel Delahaye as the Bible salesman
- Laura Betti as Miss Blandish
- Jean-Luc Bideau as the Barge Captain
- Gianni Pulone
- Franca Sciutto
The idea grew from Bernardo Bertolucci's sexual fantasies: "He once dreamed of seeing a beautiful nameless woman on the street and having sex with her without ever knowing who she was". The screenplay was by Bertolucci, Franco Arcalli, and Agnès Varda (additional dialogue), and was novelized by Robert Alley. The film was directed by Bertolucci with cinematography by Vittorio Storaro. Agnès Varda based the last scenes on the death of Jim Morrison in Paris the previous year.
The stars were intended to be Dominique Sanda, who developed the idea with Bertolucci, and Jean-Louis Trintignant, but Trintignant refused and, when Brando accepted, Sanda was pregnant and decided not to do it.
As with previous films, Marlon Brando refused to memorize his lines for many scenes. Instead, he wrote his lines on cue cards and posted them around the set for easy reference, leaving Bertolucci with the problem of keeping them out of the picture frame. During his long monologue over the body of his wife, for example, Brando's dramatic lifting of his eyes upward is not spontaneous dramatic acting but a search for his next cue. Brando even asked Bertolucci if he could "write lines on Maria's rear end," which Bertolucci refused to allow.
Schneider provided frank interviews in the wake of Tango's controversy, claiming she had slept with 50 men and 70 women, that she was "bisexual completely," and that she was a user of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. She also said of Bertolucci, "He's quite clever and more free and very young. Everybody was digging what he was doing, and we were all very close."
During the publicity for the film's release, Bertolucci said Schneider developed an "Oedipal fixation with Brando." Schneider herself said Brando sent her flowers after they first met, and "from then on he was like a daddy." In a contemporary interview, Schneider denied this, saying, "Brando tried to be very paternalistic with me, but it really wasn't any father-daughter relationship." Years later, Schneider recounted feelings of sexual humiliation:
|“||"I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can't force someone to do something that isn't in the script, but at the time, I didn't know that. Marlon said to me: 'Maria, don't worry, it's just a movie,' but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn't real, I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn't console me or apologise. Thankfully, there was just one take."||”|
Schneider subsequently stated that making the film was her life's only regret, that it "ruined her life," and that she considers Bertolucci a "gangster and a pimp." In 2011, Bertolucci disavowed that he "stole her youth," and commented, "The girl wasn't mature enough to understand what was going on." However, in 2013 he stated in the Dutch television program College Tour: "I feel guilty, but I don't regret it."
Much like Schneider, Brando "felt raped and manipulated" by the film, telling Bertolucci, "I was completely and utterly violated by you. I will never make another film like that." Brando refused to speak to Bertolucci for 15 years after the production was completed. Bertolucci also shot a scene which shows Brando's genitals, but later explained, "I had so identified myself with Brando that I cut it out of shame for myself. To show him naked would have been like showing me naked."
Francis Bacon paintings
The film's opening credits include two paintings by Francis Bacon: Double Portrait of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerback and Study for a Portrait. The hues used in the film were inspired by the paintings of Bacon. During pre-production, Bertolucci would frequently visit an exhibit of Bacon's paintings at the Grand Palais in Paris; he stated that the light and colour in Bacon's paintings reminded him of Paris in the winter, when "the lights of the stores are on, and there is a very beautiful contrast between the leaden gray of the wintry sky and the warmth of the show windows...the light in the paintings was the major source of inspiration for the style we were looking for." Bacon's painting style often depicted human skin like raw meat and the painter's inspiration included meat hanging in a butcher shops window and human skin diseases.
Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro had previously worked with Bertolucci on The Conformist and often used an azure hue in the film. Storaro later told a reporter that "after The Conformist I had a moment of crisis; I was asking myself: what can come after azure?...I did not have the slightest idea that an orange film could be born. We needed another kind of emotion...It was the case of Last Tango. For Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci and Storaro took inspiration from Bacon's paintings by using "rich oranges, light and cool grays, icy whites, and occasional reds combine[d] with Bertolucci's own tasteful choices of soft browns, blond browns, and delicate whites with bluish and pink shadings."
Bertolucci took Marlon Brando to the Bacon exhibit and told Brando that he "wanted him to compare himself with Bacon's human figures because I felt that, like them, Marlon's face and body were characterized by a strange and infernal plasticity. I wanted Paul to be like the figures that obsessively return in Bacon: faces eaten by something coming from the inside."
Response in United States
The film premiered in New York City on October 14, 1972, to enormous public controversy. The media frenzy surrounding the film generated intense popular interest as well as moral condemnation, landing cover stories in both Time and Newsweek magazines. Playboy published a photo spread of Brando and Schneider "cavorting in the nude." Time wrote, "Any moviegoers who are not shocked, titillated, disgusted, fascinated, delighted or angered by this early scene in Bernardo Bertolucci's new movie, Last Tango in Paris, should be patient. There is more to come. Much more." The Village Voice reported walkouts by board members and "vomiting by well-dressed wives." Columnist William F. Buckley and ABC's Harry Reasoner denounced the film as "pornography disguised as art."
After local government officials failed to ban the film in Montclair, NJ, theatergoers had to push through a mob of 200 outraged residents, who hurled epithets like "perverts" and "homos" at the attendees. Later, a bomb threat temporarily halted the showing. The New York chapter of the National Organization for Women denounced the film as a tool of "male domination."
The film's scandal centred mostly on an anal sex scene featuring the use of butter as a lubricant. Other critics focussed on when the character Paul asks Jeanne to insert her fingers in his anus, then exacts a vow from her that she would prove her devotion to him by, among other things, having sex with a pig. Vincent Canby of The New York Times described the film's sexual content as the artistic expression of the "era of Norman Mailer and Germaine Greer."
Film critic Pauline Kael bestowed the film with the most ecstatic endorsement of her career, writing, "Tango has altered the face of an art form. This is a movie people will be arguing about for as long as there are movies", and called it "the most powerfully erotic movie ever made, and it may turn out to be the most liberating movie ever made." United Artists reprinted the whole of Kael's extraordinary rave as a double-page advertisement in the Sunday New York Times. Kael's review of Last Tango in Paris is regarded as the most influential piece of her career, the American critic Roger Ebert has repeatedly described it as "the most famous movie review ever published" and added the film to his "Great Movies" collection.
American director Robert Altman expressed unqualified praise: "I walked out of the screening and said to myself, 'How dare I make another film?' My personal and artistic life will never be the same." Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected 31 reviews to give the film a rating of 80%.
The film earned $12,625,000 in North American rentals in 1973.
In France, filmgoers stood in two-hour lines for the first month of its run at the seven cinemas where Tango played, spurred by unanimous positive reviews in every major French publication. In order to circumvent state censorship, thousands of Spaniards travelled hundreds of miles to reach French cinemas in Biarritz and Perpignan where Tango was playing.
British censors reduced the duration of the sodomy sequence before permitting the film to be released in the United Kingdom, though it is not cut in modern releases. Mary Whitehouse, a Christian morality campaigner, expressed outrage that the film had been certified "X" rather than banned outright, and Labour MP Maurice Edelman denounced the classification as "a license to degrade". Chile banned the film entirely for nearly thirty years, and the film was similarly suppressed in South Korea and Portugal.
In Italy, the film was released on December 15, 1972, grossing an unprecedented $100,000 in only six days. One week later, however, police seized all copies on the order of a prosecutor, who defined the film as "self-serving pornography", and its director was put on trial for "obscenity". Following first degree and appeal trials, the fate of the film was sealed on January 26, 1976 by the Italian Supreme Court, which sentenced all copies to be destroyed, (though some were preserved by the National Film Library). Bertolucci was served with a four month suspended sentence in prison and had his civil rights revoked for five years, depriving him of voting rights. In 1987, 15 years after the film's release, a new ruling allowed the film to be released in Italy.
In Canada, the film was banned by the Nova Scotia Board of Censors, leading to the landmark 1978 Supreme Court of Canada split decision in Nova Scotia Board of Censors v. McNeil, which upheld the provinces' right to censor films.
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- Life: The Observer Magazine - A celebration of 500 years of British Art - 19th March 2000
- "Self-Portrait of an Angel and Monster"
- Michener, Charles. Newsweek. "Tango: The Hottest Movie." February 12, 1973.
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- Das, Lina (1975-09-14). "I felt raped by Brando". London: Daily Mail. Retrieved 2007-04-21.
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- Dutch College Tour, NTR, 2 February 2013, http://collegetour.ntr.nl/page/detailreacties/aflevering/17756
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- Tonetti 1995, p. 126.
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- Last Tango in Paris Cover Story
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- Giniger, Henry. "Spaniards Seeing 'Tango' in France." The New York Times. April 16, 1973. pg. 49.
- Case Study: Last Tango in Paris, Students' British Board of Film Classification page
- "Last Tango in Paris: Can it Arouse the Same Passions Now?"
- After Banning 1,092 Movies, Chile Relaxes Its Censorship
- "Bertolucci revisited: Another tango with the master of taboo"
- Gussow, Mel. "Bertolucci Talks about Sex, Revolution, and 'Last Tango'." The New York Times. February 2, 1973, pg. 20.
- "Supreme Court of Canada - Decisions". Scc.lexum.org. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- "The 46th Academy Awards (1974) Nominees and Winners". Beverly Hills: oscars.org and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
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- Last Tango in Paris at the Internet Movie Database
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- Last Tango in Paris - slideshow by Life magazine