The conformist is 1930s Italian Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a coward who has spent his life accommodating others so that he can "belong." Marcello agrees to kill a political refugee, on orders from the Fascist government, even though the victim-to-be is his college mentor. The film is a character study of the kind of person who willingly "conforms" to the ideological fashions of his day. In this case, director Bernardo Bertolucci suggests that Marcello's desire to conform is rooted in his latent homosexuality. In addition to its strong storyline, the film is critically revered for the astonishing production design by Nedo Azzini, which, together with Vittorio Storaro's camerawork, recreates the atmosphere of Fascist Italy with some of the most complex visual compositions ever seen on film, filled with highly stylized uses of angles, shapes, and shadows. The Conformist was cut by five crucial minutes when first released in the US; those missing moments were restored in the 1994 reissue.
by Hal Erickson synopsis