The Conformist (1970 film)

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The Conformist
The Conformist poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
ItalianIl conformista
Directed byBernardo Bertolucci
Screenplay byBernardo Bertolucci
Based onThe Conformist
by Alberto Moravia
Produced byMaurizio Lodi-Fe
StarringJean Louis Trintignant
Stefania Sandrelli
Gastone Moschin
Dominique Sanda
Pierre Clémenti
CinematographyVittorio Storaro
Edited byFranco Arcalli
Music byGeorges Delerue
Mars Film Produzione
Marianne Productions
Maran Film
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release dates
  • July 1, 1970 (1970-07-01) (BIFF)
  • October 22, 1970 (1970-10-22) (Italy and United States)
Running time
108 minutes
West Germany
Box office207.3 million (Italy)[2]
570,149 admissions (France)[3]

The Conformist (Italian: Il conformista) 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, José Quaglio, Dominique Sanda and Pierre Clémenti. The film was a co-production of Italian, French, and West German film companies.

Bertolucci made 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.[4][5]


In 1938 Paris, Marcello Clerici finalizes his preparations to assassinate his former college professor, Luca Quadri, leaving his wife Giulia in their hotel room. After receiving a telephone call, Marcello is picked up in a car driven by his subordinate, Special Agent Manganiello. The film often returns to the interior of this car, as the two of them pursue the professor and his wife.

A series of flashbacks depict Marcello 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 family's decaying villa, and his unhinged father at an insane asylum.

In another flashback, Marcello is seen as a boy who 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 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 but quickly absolves Marcello once he hears that he is 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 professor's young wife, and pursues her. Although it becomes clear that she and her husband are aware of Marcello's Fascist sympathies and the danger he presents to them, she responds to his advances and forms 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 Marcello's 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 Quadri's 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 alpine road, Fascist agents attack and stab Quadri as Anna watches in 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 Marcello's cowardice in not shooting Anna when she ran to their car.

In 1943, Marcello now has a small child with Giulia and is apparently settled in a conventional life when the resignation of Benito Mussolini and the fascist dictatorship is announced. He is called by Italo for a meeting. While walking, they overhear a conversation between two men; Marcello recognizes one of them as Lino whom he thought he had murdered. Marcello publicly denounces Lino as a Fascist, homosexual and the murderer of the Quadris. In his frenzy, he also denounces Italo as a Fascist. As a monarchist political crowd sweeps past, taking Italo with them, Marcello sits near a small fire and stares intently behind him at the young man Lino had been talking to.


Dubbing voices (Italian version)

Source: RaroVideo Blu-ray booklet.[6]


Marcello seduces Giulia during their train ride to Paris.

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 committed a murder. He accepts an assignment from Benito Mussolini's secret police to assassinate his former mentor, living in exile in Paris. In Trintignant's characterization, Clerici is willing to sacrifice his values in the interests of building a supposedly "normal life."[7]

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."[8]

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 Clerici's inability to conform with "normal" reality: the reality of the time is "abnormal."[9] Also, Bertolucci's 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 Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will and Fritz Lang's Metropolis.[10]

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, it's essential to understand the history of the EUR district in Rome and its deep ties with fascism.[11]


The filming locations included Gare d'Orsay and Paris, France; Sant' Angelo Bridge and the Colosseum, both in Rome.[12] 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.[13][14][15]

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.[16] Additionally, the scene in which Dominique Sanda's character 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.


The film premiered at the 20th Berlin International Film Festival on 1 July 1970,[17] where it competed for the Golden Bear. However, due to the row over the participation of Michael Verhoeven's anti-war film o.k., the festival was closed down three days later and no prizes were awarded.[18]

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.[19] In the United States, the film screened at the New York Film Festival on 18 September 1970[20] and was given a limited release in select cities the following spring, opening in New York and Los Angeles in April 1971,[21][22] and Chicago and Washington D.C. in May 1971.[23][24] 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.[25]

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),[26] which screened in the Cannes Classics series on May 11, 2011, in conjunction with the presentation of an honorary Palme d'Or to Bertolucci.[27][28] The restoration was done by Minerva Pictures-Rarovideo USA and L'Immagine Ritrovata (laboratory of the Cineteca di Bologna).[29][30] 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.[31]

Critical response[edit]

Vincent Canby, film critic for The New York Times, liked Bertolucci's 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 Bertolucci's 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 Bertolucci's first commercially popular film, at least in Europe where there always seems to be a market for intelligent, upper middle-class decadence."[32]

A review in Variety stated "For those who appreciate its subtleties, but also its subsurface power and great evocative qualities, it's a gem."[33] 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 Bertolucci's splendid recreation of the era. In other words, if you are looking for fashion and furnishing hints, this is the place."[23] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote 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."[22]

Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote that the film was "an extraordinarily beautiful and spellbinding picture," but "what's below the surface doesn't stand up to much analysis. I think this is true and that it amounts to a terrible flaw. The dramatic material, while intriguing, isn't 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."[24] Jan Dawson of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "In his screen adaptation of Moravia's novel, Bertolucci has eliminated all explanations or analysed motivations, as well as any allusions to Marcello's life before the moment he first sees Lino ... The effort of these changes, in purely psychological terms, is to reduce Marcello's story to a model Freudian case history."[34]

In 1994, critic James Berardinelli wrote a review and heralded the film's look: "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 isn't just photography, it's art — powerful, beautiful, and effective. There's a scene in the woods, with sunlight streaming between trees, that's breathtaking to behold — and all the more stunning because of the brutal events that take place before this background."[35]

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.[36]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 98% of 57 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 8.9/10. The website's consensus reads, "A commentary on fascism and beauty alike, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist is acclaimed for its sumptuous visuals and extravagant, artful cinematography."[37]





The CD soundtrack composed by Georges Delerue is available on Music Box Records label.


  1. ^ Spilker, Eric (September 23, 1970). "A Hit At N.Y. Fest, Bertolucci Wins A Sandwich And Paramount". Variety. p. 5.
  2. ^ a b Credits (booklet). RaroVideo. 2014. p. 4. BRRVD 088.
  3. ^ "Jean Louis Trintignant Box Office". Box Office Story. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  4. ^ Buss, Robin. Italian Films, Il conformista, page 120. London: Anchor Press Ltd. ISBN 0-7134-5900-X.
  5. ^ "Bernardo Bertolucci death: How the late director's The Conformist inspired The Godfather and The Sopranos" [1]
  6. ^ Credits (booklet). RaroVideo. 2014. p. 3. BRRVD 088.
  7. ^ Scott. A.O. The New York Times, film review, Arts Section, July 31 - Aug. 6, 2005.
  8. ^ Takis Fotopoulos, "Recent Theoretical Developments on the Inclusive Democracy Project, B. The Inclusive Democracy Approach on Globalisation and the Multi-Dimensional Crisis, 4. Cultural globalisation" in Global Capitalism and the Demise Of The Left: Renewing Radicalism Through Inclusive Democracy, edited by Steven Best (The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, Vol. 5, No. 1, special issue winter 2009), 472 pages, ISSN 1753-240X pdf
  9. ^ Buss, Robin. Ibid.
  10. ^ Klein, Jessi. Vassar College Department of Italian, 1996.
  11. ^ Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian "The Conformist" Interiors Journal (April 15, 2013)
  12. ^ The Conformist at IMDb.
  13. ^ ""The Conformist": An unsettling political masterpiece returns". Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  14. ^ "'The Conformist' Is a Political Thriller Washed in the Hues of a Thousand Psychosexual Dreams". PopMatters. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  15. ^ "La pagina di SERGIO GRAZIANI". Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  16. ^ Visions of Light at the IMDb.
  17. ^ Dietrich Kuhlbrodt: Bernardo Bertolucci, pages 238–239 – Hanser Verlag, München 1982, ISBN 3-446-13164-7
  18. ^ "Berlinale 1970: Prize Winners". Archived from the original on January 14, 2013. Retrieved March 7, 2010.
  19. ^ IMDb Release Dates for The Conformist
  20. ^ Canby, Vincent. The New York Times, film review, September 19, 1970.
  21. ^ Canby, Vincent (April 11, 1971). "Red, Hot & Bertolucci". New York Times. p. D1.
  22. ^ a b Thomas, Kevin (April 28, 1971). "'The Conformist' Opens Run". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 11.
  23. ^ a b Siskel, Gene (May 31, 1971). "The Conformist". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 9.
  24. ^ a b Arnold, Gary (May 21, 1971). "'The Conformist': Ravishing Beauty". The Washington Post. B1.
  25. ^ Erickson, Hal. Allmovie website.
  26. ^ Andrew O'Hehir (August 28, 2014). ""The Conformist": An unsettling political masterpiece returns". Salon. Retrieved September 20, 2014. There are various substandard prints of "The Conformist" available on DVD or the Internet, but this new release is the result of a 2011 restoration from original source materials, supervised by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and approved by Bertolucci. The differences may be subtle in any given scene, but the film as a whole is far more intense, and seems less like an artifact of a bygone era.
  27. ^ "Cannes Classics 2011". Festival de Cannes. May 4, 2011. Retrieved September 20, 2014.
  28. ^ Nick Vivarelli (May 7, 2011). "Cannes fetes a non-conformist". Variety. Retrieved September 20, 2014.
  29. ^ "Il Lumière riapre con 'Il conformista'". Cineteca di Bologna. September 1, 2011. Retrieved September 20, 2014.
  30. ^ "Film Forum Presents THE CONFORMIST - NEW RESTORATION". French Embassy in the United States. 2014. Retrieved September 20, 2014.
  31. ^ "The Conformist Blu-ray". Retrieved September 20, 2014.
  32. ^ Canby, Vincent. The New York Times, film review, September 19, 1970. Last accessed: December 22, 2007.
  33. ^ "Film Reviews: Il Conformista". Variety. July 8, 1970. 15.
  34. ^ Dawson, Jan (December 1971). "Il Conformista (The Conformist)". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 38 (455): 238.
  35. ^ Berardinelli, James. Reel Views, film review, 1994.
  36. ^ Patterson, John (February 22, 2012). "Why Bertolucci's The Conformist deserves a place in cinema history". the Guardian. Retrieved September 28, 2015.
  37. ^ "The Conformist". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved February 22, 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • Tibbetts, John C., and James M. Welsh, eds. The Encyclopedia of Novels Into Film (2nd ed. 2005) pp 68–69.

External links[edit]