I’ll start with this: Marlon Brando looked good in A Streetcar Named Desire, but years later he was a wreck. Last Tango inParis, released in 1972 and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, stars Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider.
Jeanne, 20-year old and about to get married, meets Paul, a 45-year old widower, while visiting a flat in Paris. No word is exchanged and the two of them have a sexual encounter where he practically rapes her, that leads to an affair where the rule of the game is: “no names”. The sordid relationship evolves to the point of no return.
So I had heard the movie was pornographic, give or take a couple of scenes, it is not. For me it is mostly about psychological domination, borderline torture. However, it leaves the viewer feeling uneasy, as the dominance of Paul over Jeanne is borderline overwhelming and clearly sordid. I could not get attached to the characters: Brando plays a sick pervert, and looks the part, too. To be frank, I found he, in this movie, bears a striking resemblance to Dominique Strauss-Kahn…. Not really a positive point.
Paul: You know in 15 years, you're going to be playing soccer with your tits. What do you think of that?
Schneider is very pretty, no argument about that, but screams most of the time and her character has limited depth, apart from the very end. Is she attracted to Paul? I found it difficult to figure out what was in it for her, what she could possibly get out of that relationship. She is degraded, humiliated, but still keeps going back to him. To understand Paul is a bit easier, he is a widower trying to find release and some form of peace after his wife has killed herself.
Note the evolution of characters though. In spite of the “no names” rule, Jeanne wants to know as much as possible about Paul, and he rejects her. In the end Paul ends up falling in love with Jeanne, in a sort of twisted, sick way, whereas Jeanne loses all (pretense of) innocence, with the last scene leaving the viewer fairly terrified that the “monster” with her has been released. Doesn’t bode well for the life she has ahead of her, with Tom, a young man with limited interest.
Paul: You ran through Africa and Asia and Indonesia, and now I found you... and I love you. I want to know your name.
Some elements in the scenario are interesting: Jeanne confesses her first love was her cousin Paul, oblivious of the fact it is her lover’s name. Jeanne’s fiancé want to have a daughter and name her Rosa, the name of Paul’s deceased wife. Other than that, the atmosphere is heavy, burdensome, and, although I can see why the scenes would have appeared shocking in 1972, seriously I do not understand how someone could make a whole film about such a story. I read somewhere that Maria Schneider’s career really suffered after this movie, and that she had extreme difficulties getting over it. All in all, I’d say it was a youth’s mistake, and sadly it was not worth it.