In 1970's "The Conformist," the object of filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci's clinical examination is one Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant), an uncomfortable child of the upper class. The time is 1938, and Marcello has given himself over to the cause of Mussolini. He is drawn by the imagery of power and strength, the power of mass action, the power of the mob that is Fascism as the Italians practiced it. He'll kill for it, not merely despite the moral considerations but, as the movie dramatizes (horrifyingly), despite the emotional considerations. He'll let a woman he loves die, and he watches the hideous execution with an opaque face.
"The Conformist" famously tries to explain the fascist impulse, and a newly restored version, with vivid colors and clean images, yields all the more opportunity for study. Derived from a novel by Alberto Moravia, it's a story of political violence and how a man persuades himself to commit it. It's the story of an assassination, basically a psycho-biography of a terrorist, though as a vessel of ideas, it's disappointing.
But if you strip away the film's shallow intellectualizations, you're left with something quite interesting: Its production is spectacular -- stylized in a way that expresses its dubious meaning brilliantly, it's superbly framed, performed, photographed and edited.
So the movie is pure magic as story, as drama, as photography, as conviction, as everything except its ideas. It feels, therefore, like a beautiful, even mesmerizing automobile -- dare we say Ferrari -- without an engine.
-- Stephen Hunter (Sep. 8, 2006)
Contains violence and sexuality.