Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama, Erotic Drama  |   Release Date - Feb 1, 1973 (USA)  |   Run Time - 136 min.  |   Countries - France , Italy   |   MPAA Rating - NC17
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Review by Dan Jardine

Ironically, the film that heralded the arrival of a mainstream adult cinema, with its frank and often brutal depiction of impersonal (and often nearly fully clothed) sex, was actually one of the last films to give such raw and uncompromising treatment to the subject matter. Last Tango in Paris certainly ranks among Marlon Brando's greatest acting achievements (he improvised a significant portion of his part), as he makes us care about his distraught, damaged, misogynistic character. Director Bernardo Bertolucci's favorite cameraman, Vittorio Storaro, provides cadaverous color that moves through a half-lit space as evocatively as it travels through the character's emotions. The characters of Paul and Jeanne (Maria Schneider, in an often overlooked but remarkably vulnerable performance) spend the film enveloped in a sexual cocoon, engaging in animalistic acts of passion in order to escape or ignore their lives on the "outside." Such subject matter has rarely (if ever) been treated with such emotional and intellectual seriousness; while one may question the film's conclusions (Paul's declaration of love leads to his death), it is an inescapably bold film, untempered by a fear of public disgust or outrage -- much of which it in fact received at the time, despite (and partly because of) the equally strong favorable views of such critics as Pauline Kael, who called it "a landmark in movie history" comparable to Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring in music.