Last Tango in Paris
MGM // NC-17 // $19.99 // February 15, 2011
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted March 10, 2011
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The Movie:

Forgive the blasphemy, but this is the first time that I've ever seen Last Tango in Paris. I have heard about some of the controversy through the years, but I went into the film without much of a judgment or preconceived notion about it. And now that I've seen it, I'm left wondering why, for a number of reasons.

The story was co-written by Franco Arcalli (Once Upon a Time in America) and Bernardo Bertolucci (The Last Emperor), the latter of whom directed the feature. The film is centered predominantly on two characters; Paul (Marlon Brando, Apocalypse Now) is mourning the loss of his wife, who recently committed suicide. He encounters Jeanne (Maria Schneider) while the two are looking at an apartment that each is considering renting for themselves, and Paul acts on an impulse and ravishes Maria in the apartment. The two agree to continue having sex in the apartment anonymously, and over the course of the story, we see Maria try to rectify this with her filmmaker husband, while Paul is busy preparing for his wife's funeral.

However as we learn more about Paul, it would appear that he was put upon for most of his marriage. That's to say that he apparently was apathetic through most of the relationship and didn't have quite as dominant a part in it as we might have wanted. So in meeting Jeanne, someone he doesn't have a connection with (nor has any inclination to have), he objectifies her and possibly humiliates her, long before the much talked-about butter scene last in the film. Yet through this process Paul develops an odd fondness for her.

Schneider puts up with a lot in the film; while she recently died at the age of 58 due to cancer, one has to wonder if the emotional burdens of working in a movie where she was nude for extended amounts of it (and virtually abused in two others) was emotionally taxing. This might have been the most grueling performance I've seen a female undertake since Nicole Kidman went through the ringer in Lars von Trier's Dogville. Except in that (and in some other films from the director), the story is something that has other good performances to support a story that can either be emotional or compelling. And in Last Tango in Paris, I didn't see that.

Ultimately I found myself not appreciating the film the way that many others have written about through the years. Bertolucci does make an interesting case for this exploration, but Brando's indifferent performance makes for a gap that makes you wonder what it's really all for. Lots of people would tell you that this film should belong in the pantheon of cinematic achievements, to me this is two hours of nice ideas but flawed storytelling and delivery.

The Blu-ray Disc:
The Video:

Last Tango in Paris is presented in an AVC-encoded 1.85:1 high-definition widescreen presentation that looks as good as it's going to for the medium. One of the first things you'll notice is the presence of film grain in the image to remind you that you're not going to see something rampant with noise reduction. In fact, this looks free of any of it, skin tones are replicated well and aren't pushed with oranges or reds, and the image has some nice detail in some of the hotel room scenes. For those looks forward to this film on Blu-ray, you won't be disappointed.

The Sound:

A DTS-HD Master Audio two-channel mono soundtrack is the English sound option to enjoy here. From the opening score to Brando screaming, both effects sound clear and are free of chirping or crackling, and the dialogue sounds naturally replicated, though it does require some user compensation from time to time. There is nothing in the way of subwoofer activity and the action which occurs in the front channels is scarcely repeated in the back. It's natural straightforward listening without complaints.


The only thing here is the trailer (1:32), basically a bunch of stills set to music as a promo.

Final Thoughts:

The Last Tango in Paris is certainly an interesting rumination on the dark areas of the male mind and remains startling in some scenes to this day, but it would appear to be a film that requires several different viewings to gain an appreciation for it. And that's assuming you're one of those people, which I'm not. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate the player (Bertolucci), I hate the game, and Tango simply isn't my cup of tea. Fans of the film will enjoy the high-definition presentation nonetheless.

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