Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
If showing an anti- Vietnam poster being plastered on a tree could make a film into a counterculture hit, Bernardo Bertolucci's Partner would be a masterpiece. This interminable exercise in abstract theatrics and irrational characters is probably a rarity for good reason; it plays as if it had been deconstructed into its constituent parts: Shouting fanatics, doppelgänger hijinks and revolutionary rhetoric. Pierre Clémenti's crazed acting teacher spends most of the movie spouting non-sequitur lines at the camera, which roams the streets of Rome but never really grasps the nature of the revolution it wishes to celebrate.
The No Shame DVD label proves its fidelity to the entire spectrum of Italian cinema by presenting Partner (often spelled without explanation with a period at the end) in a handsome two-disc package with a second feature film by Bertolucci disciple Edoardo Bruno.
Acting teacher Giaccobe (Pierre Clémenti) gets tired of talking to himself and invents a personal double, Giaccobe 2. The two of them have bizarre discussions while Giaccobe brings the madness of life into his classes. His private life is even more insane ... he murders a piano student (John Ohettoplace) and crashes a fellow professor's party to see his imagined sweetheart Clara (Stefania Sandrelli). Giaccobe's behavior becomes more politically charged and absurdist as he romps in soapsuds to a rock song. He eventually loses control of his students when he takes them out in the Rome sun to rehearse / perform.
Behaving like a spy, nervous Giaccobe stakes out a building from a café across the street and then sneaks over to shoot a student pianist in the head. Giaccobe's motions and gestures throughout the film often have a tentative or jerky quality, as if the 'double' were inside him and interfering with his actions. When Giaccobe 2 finally appears, the pair of neurotics argues and we really can't tell one from another. If there is an explanation to Giaccobe's Jekyll-Hyde conflict, it's too intellectual for direct filmic expression.
Partner puts forward the notion that Giaccobe's acting students may represent the revolutionary hope of the future. We see men in megaphones announcing pompously anarchistic slogans, reportedly brought back from Paris by Pierre Clémenti after weekend breaks spent on the barricades. That the acting students eventually abandon Giaccobe is a good sign for the revolution, as the man's actions don't correlate to anything political.
Giaccobe's mania is covered in two or three reasonably realistic scenes, as when he gatecrashes a party to declare his love for the aloof Clara and is violently ejected. But most of the stand-alone skits bear traces of desperate improvisation. To elope with Clara, Giaccobe has his oddball landlord Petrushka (Sergio Tofani) steal a car. When she shows up at the rendezvous, they simply sit in the back seat while Giaccobe insults her. Petrushka makes engine noises, pretending the car is going somewhere.
That level of imagination doesn't really improve. Giaccobe and a cooperative girl romp in soapsuds from a new clothes washer while Ennio Morricone's pop-rock jingle plays on the soundtrack. She ends up dead. Before they desert him, Giaccobe takes his students to ancient ruins (The Forum?), which are filmed with less inventiveness than the average travelogue.
The movie uses split screens to put the two Giaccobes in the same frame, and cannot resist deconstructing its own modest special effect. The actors on both sides of the screen cross the matte line and disappear. It's fairly depressing to read critical essays that declare the moment a symbolic stage in the development of the Giaccobe character. Partner appears to have been inspired by the student rebellion and undertaken as a sort of artistic statement of support. Bertolucci might have done better by taking his cameras to the streets of Paris.
No Shame's DVD of Partner sports a fine enhanced transfer of Ugo Piccone's Techniscope, color cinematography. The first disc has two lengthy interview segments with the editor and director -- NoShame's featurettes tend to be overlong. Editor Roberto Perpignani regales the camera with an flow of difficult-to-follow comments about the historic year 1968 and his time spent working with Bernado Bertolucci.
The charming and intelligent Bertolucci talks about the film's use of direct sound, instead of being post-dubbed like the vast majority of Italian features of the time. But he never really explains the exact context in which the film was shot. Italian cinema in 1968 was a politically charged place where directors and artists were expected to openly declare their positions and decide whether or not to be 'committed' to social change. Many popular films, especially westerns, expressed pro-radical sentiments and highly respected actors like Gian Maria Volonte declared that they would only appear in 'committed' productions.
Disc one finishes with some Pierre Clémenti screen tests, a few outtakes and a small poster and still gallery.
Disc two contains the film La sua giornata di gloria which translates as His Day of Glory. Director Eduardo Bruno made this one picture and then became a respected film critic. It's a fantasy gabfest about brooding communist revolutionaries in a supposedly future Rome where policemen execute weapon-carrying radicals on the street. Perhaps two minutes of staged action are followed by an hour of people sitting and talking, or rehearsing a scene from Mother Courage. Discussions of Marxist aims and practical revolution finally come to an end as the group prepares for an armed showdown. Our troubled hero and his obligatory sensuous girlfriend are delayed by a rainstorm and hug one another while the battle is heard via an off-camera audio barrage. Phillipe Leroy has a small role, and Pierre Clémenti appears in a couple of shots at the beginning, along with a re-purposed clip from Partner.
The source on this feature appears to be a surviving print of variable picture quality with good audio. In an interview extra, Signor Bruno talks for 35 minutes about the making of his film. More screen tests and stills round out this second disc.
No Shame's cover and insert booklet hype the film rather unrealistically -- I frankly don't think there's anything remotely Dogme about Partner. Booklet essays give a shallow view of the Italian New Wave and laud Partner's tired gags as inspired. At one point Giaccobe dances with a giant shadow on a wall that turns into another independent 'double.' I doubt if that ancient gimmick was in the Dostoyevsky story claimed as the film's source. Edoardo Bruno writes about His Day of Glory in the same nostalgic, non-analytic terms consistent with the other extras... yes, we understand how the filmmakers must have felt about the experience of making movies in a revolutionary climate, but what did it all amount to, and what did they learn?
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Fair, Good, if one is into historical curios
Supplements: Interview with Bernardo Bertolucci; Interview with editor Robert Perpignani; Screen Test Pierre Clémenti; outtakes, poster and still gallery; La sua giornata di gloria directed by Edoardo Bruno; interview with Edoardo Bruno; Lou Castel and Laura Troschel screen tests; On camera rehearsals; talent bios, essay.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 2, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson