Last Tango In Paris

TangoIt’s hard for a 24-year-old to sympathize with the kind of naked lunch you get in Last Tango In Paris. If the film leads to “candor,” my tongue is lagging: I like empty sex. Knowing me/knowing you is not something I (necessarily) want to do.

Tango is about a tryst. It is also about Marlon Brando, and the fact that intellectualism is something you graduate from — not into. This film is a ball of wax.

1972 is everywhere. The look of it steers you. Paree is soft and wet and Maria Schneider click-clacks the pavement with a little-tramp hat. She has a curl on her eye. We see Brando. He is sad and fine. They fall onto each other in a room for rent. Not an orgasm, but a spasm — the fuse lit by two strangers who vow to commit no act of ken lest it break the sway — the body-spell. A thousand fruitless searches, and what? Sex. Humping. The suspension of disbelief.

Anonymous sex frees them from themselves, but that’s crap. Sans identity, sex at a blind run is no fun. Marlon dies, and the dance goes on.

Bernardo Bertolucci made a film both hot and cold. I don’t think it’s deliberate. Does it strive for a cream-scented, Kleenex-veiled effect? Yes. Does it want to arouse? I don’t know. In the end, the only revolutionary thing about it is the bloomy hue of rosy secretions in a uterine hallway — the look of porno chic. Ultimately it doesn’t tell us what to feel. Laud the “indecision” as a fig of art. Or not. The real accomplishment is the film’s stature as a conversation piece.

Tango was the last of its kind, but the first too. Topical and frank, it was “the apex of the art film.” But, for all the elements of out-thereness, the film is a dead end; despite the extensions made, it is a relic of the Sixties. What Brando gets at then, in terms of his soul baring, is banal. It fails to explode; it doesn’t go all the way. It’s over-simulated. And that is the real shock — just how conventional Paris is. Still, the ad-libs have a morbid heft, and the film has a fix on the nature of pain. You buy the stifling sense of intoxication.

Transitory sex allows Brando to escape. For Schneider that need authenticates her. But they want something they can’t have: a Relationship with no strings attached. Their aimlessness folds down upon itself, and we get impatient. The film plucks at self-indulgence as a means to an end.

But Brando is Brando. We like to watch him. Here he dithers on the vine, he squats, and he f*cks like an animal. He buggers Maria with a pinch of butter. Then he proffers a dead rat’s asshole for eating. Then, as she puts her fingers up his ass, he tells her that he wants her to smell the dying farts of a pig.

I used to think that Tango was a comedy — that it was glorified smut. But I’m not so sure. Tango shows just how subjective the medium is. For Pauline Kael, the movie critic, the film was a model of maturation. For me it is at the very least absurd. Brando doesn’t really act. He plays with our preconceptions of him; the character is Marlon Brando, the naked myth. Bertolucci keeps the camera rolling and you watch this blowhard stroke his ego to the point of breakdown. (Maria holds her own.) All those blue words — they just blanket the pain he feels. He derides the machismo he craves.

Marlon’s career is a study in the gins of narcissism. In Tango he conveys the private torment of a man so well that you go with him — or you go home laughing.

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