As we return to the drama genre in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, I settled in for the next title to have a look at, this classic Bertolucci film starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider. In turns dark, morose and sensual, Bertolucci has crafted a film about loss, sex turning to desire and love, and vengeance on those we’ve lost, until we cn forgive ourselves, if we can, moodily shot against the backdrop of Paris
Brando plays Paul, newly alone in Paris mourning the recent suicide of his wife, with a razor in the bathtub (and in a rather macabre fashion, and probably as a form of self-punishment, he carries around a similar razor to shave with).
He meets the lovely Jeanne (Schneider), who is looking at apartments, and the two of them commence a relationship, based solely on the need for sex. Nothing is taboo, and anything can happen. They begin to meet on a regular basis in a quiet apartment for their liasons, where Paul insists that nothing from the outside world can intrude. No names, no addresses, nothing. It’s just sex.
Jeanne is happy to carry out this fling, despite the fact that Paul can be rude, crass and almost abusive, but their physical chemistry keeps them coming back to one another.
Outside of the room Paul is angry, bitter and depressed, lashing out as his wife’s mother (Maria Michi) and unable to process his grief and hurt. Jeanne has a boyfriend Tom (Jean-Pierre Leaud) who is making a cinema verite documentary about her and tops it all with a proposition of marriage.
Each time they return to their room, their passions ignite, but they also confront each other, and who they actually are. For Paul, Jeanne is a release, as he uses her to fullfill his basest needs and desires, for Jeanne, Paul may be more than a dalliance, there may even be a measure of love there, but she knows Tom makes her happy.
When she finally comes to tell Paul that it’s over, that she is going to leave him behind and instead focus on her life with Tom, for the first time, they meet outside of those rooms, and that’s when you know it’s not going to end well. The real world has intruded on their little sanctum, but more than that, Paul has begun to develop feelings for her.
In his way, he has processed his grief, he as railed at the dark, and sex as it so often does for some evolves from merely an action into an emotional connection, and it drives him to literally pursue Jeanne to a tragic end.
A fascinating film, Schneider is luminous, and Brando gives an impassioned performance as the doomed Paul.