Written by: Bernardo Bertolucci
Starring: Jean Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin, Dominique Sanda
Falling in line with evil presents an easier path than confronting it especially when opposing it falls within the minority of the population. Those who fight back put themselves in danger, while those who decide to stay alongside the power prove to have a weaker will, but most likely live longer lives. The Conformist presents the case of a man balancing these issues, as he must face his past and what the future holds for him.
Never afraid to get in line with those in power, Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintignant) works for the Italian fascist secret police, with his next mission involving the murder of his former professor. While he sets up this mission, we venture into the past of Marcello as the formative moments of his life begin to fill in the picture of the cowardly man we see right before us.
Watching this film through the experience of Marcello brings forth this conflicting experience of feeling for someone having no issue espousing fascist beliefs and silencing anyone willing to stand against it. Incredibly moody but undoubtedly interesting, Marcello makes the psychological exploration worth it because we get to see what creates someone so soulless that they would be willing to kill for the mere act of espousing opposing ideas. Each flashback serves as the piece to a puzzle where we know the final product will show someone hideous on the inside. Putting it all together becomes a fun exercise because of the continual intrigue in play with Marcello.
Where he stands as a member of the secret police brings some conflict because he appears to be good at what he does, but there manages to always be a haze of uncertainty looming around him. Whether it be a mistrust his colleagues have for him, or never fully fitting the mold of what a member of the secret police should be. As we learn more about Marcello and his journey to complete this assassination, we learn he’s an atheist in a country where Catholicism reigns supreme. When you share the same borders as the Pope, then you do not have much of a choice on what you believe, especially if you follow this particular fascistic regime. Layer by layer, we learn about how he sticks out from others and why he ended up being the perfect selection for this assassination. However, things do not go as smoothly as they could, which demonstrates the final battle for Marcello’s humanity.
This battle becomes evident with Marcello having to take out someone from his past, a person with whom he interacted before becoming a full fascist. The conversations he has with this professor drive the intrigue because we see different parts of Marcello the previous scenes never had the opportunity to show. You see glimmers of his humanity when around his professor, and with this ploy, he has the opportunity to do something great in his life instead of carrying out the duties of an oppressive regime. Everything comes down to this assassination and the result, which I will not spoil, eventually says all you need to know about the man whom we follow for the entirety of this film.
As much as the story provides the intrigue, the stylish way Bernardo Bertolucci shoots this film culminates in such an entertaining experience. He allows the plain and assimilative nature of the looks of the secret police clash with the unique perspective we see with Marcello. They may wear plain suits and remain faceless monsters, but the contrast they have with others gives off this stark and rigid feeling throughout. It zaps away any warmth one could obtain from watching the life story of Marcello, because of the rigid nature of the life he chose to live. Any progress made gets shattered by the reality he chose for himself, which remains one of comfort rather than bravery and principle.
Ultimately, a story about cowardice and power, The Conformist has such a perfect title because it tells the complete story of Marcello. From a troubled young boy to an even more concerning man. The story coincides excellently with its director, who knew how to put together the visual fortitude to match the harrowing nature of this story. While it tells a more personal story of a man, it says plenty about what it took to succeed in the Italian fascist regime of the 1930s and 40s. Brutal at parts but also a decent sprinkling of humanity, this film presents such a fascinating experience.