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‘The Conformist’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 25, 1994

In terms of sheer visual mastery, few director-cinematographer teams have outdone the work of Bernardo Bertolucci and Vittorio Storaro. And among their many collaborations, their finest may be "The Conformist," the 1970 movie about aristocrat Jean-Louis Trintignant's obsessive desire to follow the prevailing political winds.

Luckily, under Storaro's personal supervision, a new, pristine 35mm print has emerged from video doom. The latest release qualifies as a restoration, since a previously unreleased scene -- a five-minute interlude known as the "Dance of the Blind" -- has been reinstated. More importantly, "The Conformist" is back to its original big-screen luster, its blues, reds and greens repolished, and its intricate design available to a new generation. For those who haven't seen it -- and for those who have -- "The Conformist" is a wonderful antidote to the Blockbustering of America, an invaluable opportunity to sample (or relive) the state of filmmaking before "Porky's II."

In this free adaptation of Alberto Moravia's novel, set in the 1930s, Trintignant plays a spineless member of the upper class who is psychologically burdened by a sexually traumatic incident in his childhood. Determined to prove his allegiance to the fascist cause, Trintignant's desire is answered when rightist operatives order him to establish contact with a former professor -- now an anti-fascist -- living in Paris. After locating the professor, Trintignant is to report on his movements. Engaged to the devoted, but vacuously bourgeois Stefania Sandrelli, Trintignant decides to combine his mission with a honeymoon.

But on the journey to France, Trintignant is suddenly informed he must kill the professor (Enzo Tarascio). When he locates his man, Trintignant's now-lukewarm resolve is further complicated by slinky Dominique Sanda, the professor's wife, who offers herself sexually to Trintignant, then makes advances toward his new bride. Trintignant, under the watchful eye of fascist agent Gastone Moschin, has an increasingly difficult dilemma. His sense of allegiance utterly confused, he takes the path of least resistance.

In a story full of treachery, cowardice and sexual decadence, with an outcome that doesn't end happily for anyone, the movie remains uplifting for its breathtaking style. Masterfully arranged for color, texture, decor and camera fluidity, "The Conformist" is more like a symphonic poem than a movie. Your breath is taken away by its baroque compositions, like the shot in which Storaro's camera -- powered by Georges Delerue's rhapsodic score -- glides ghostlike toward its characters at ground level, stirring up a flurry of autumn leaves. Images like that -- projected on a big screen -- show you what the medium is capable of. They also demonstrate why going out to the theater remains the best way to see a movie. And frankly, it's the best way to appreciate Dominique Sanda's mouth, which may be the greatest set of lips in movie history.

THE CONFORMIST (R) — In Italian and French with subtitles. Contains nudity and violence.

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