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Partner

NoShame Films // Unrated // October 25, 2005
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Svet Atanasov | posted October 12, 2005 | E-mail the Author
"I remember being young in the 1960s…we had a great sense of future, a great big hope. This is what is missing in the youth today. This being able to dream and change the world". Bernardo Bertolucci.


The Film:

In 1968, the year of the notorious student riots in Paris, Bernardo Bertolucci was quietly putting together the final pieces of his fourth picture Il Sosia a.k.a. Partner. An enormously complex film which to this day remains one of the maestro's most ambitious yet elusive projects Partner very much feels like a theater play. Partially based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's work The Double this is a film that reexamines the social climate in Italy from the 60s shattered by a severe political and cultural crisis. Partner is also a reflection of Bernardo Bertolucci's attempts to echo the social awakening which the events from Paris initiated in a manner implying solidarity with the ideals behind the actions of the French students.

In a tiny, darkly-lit, apartment Jacob (Pierre Clementi) a schizophrenic revolutionary is secretly scheming to instigate a social uprising that will alter the landscape of post-war Italy. He embarks on endless discussions with his partner, a mysterious man sharing the same apartment, deconstructing Karl Marx, conversing about the merits of modern philosophy, the revolutionary ideals, and the future of his country. The two men often argue, share political ideas, and from time to time leave the room where most of Partner takes place. But when Jacob falls in love with the daughter (Stefania Sandrelli) of a fellow colleague from the local university he is faced with a difficult decision-he must choose between love and the revolutionary ideals raging in his soul.

Heavily influenced by Jean-Luc Godard and the French New Wave Bertolucci was desperately attempting to emulate what French cinema was conveying at the time. The sheer political intensity which French directors planted in their works had an enormous impact on the maestro and his political orientation as well. Looking at the narrative of Partner it is quite easy to see how the concept of radical political change fueled by a mass revolutionary movement had its effect on Bertolucci. The long political statements which Jacob discusses with his friend, the provocative intellectual dissection of the ideas professed by Karl Marx, even the manner in which romance is treated in Partner reveal a director that was enormously influenced by the events of 1968.

Unlike Bertolucci's earlier Before the Revolution (1964) where a few political overtones were used as a pretext for the construction of a highly engaging story in Partner the narrative is merely used as a foundation for the numerous political statements that can be found in this film. Quite frankly Partner feels more like a theater play than a mainstream film relying on the typical for Bertolucci lush camera work. In fact, this is the one film which in my opinion to this day remains between the most uncharacteristic of the maestro's works.

Aside from being one of his most politically-charged films Partner also appears to be one of Bertolucci's most innovative films. The structure of the film allowed the director to experiment with different camera moves and use techniques that are more likely to be associated with the work of modern-day directors than with the visual style of an Italian director from the early 60s. In particular, the manner in which Bertolucci splits the screen allowing the viewer to follow meticulously the facial expressions of Jacob while he is passionately arguing about the importance of a more politically active youth is remarkable. As it seems many of the visual experimentations Bertolucci incorporated in Partner were partially reproduced in his later films but absolutely none of them achieved the intimate feeling this specific film displays.

I don't think that for those unfamiliar with the turbulent events from 1968 Partner would look as urgent, innovative and politically-charged as it was perceived to be. The unusual form of the narrative will sure raise a few eye-brows but the real message(s) behind it will probably remain hidden under a thick layer of abnormal parallels such as the one claiming that Partner shares the same ideology as Fight Club (the notion of fatal double identity is implied here). Not only it is insulting to attempt and draw a parallel between these two works, as they are profoundly different in just about any aspect of their structure, but is unwise to fuel illogical expectations claiming that this is Bertolucci's contribution to the favorite for modern cinema subject of double identity. If you see and perceive Partner as such then you most definitely missed the point of it…and the self-explanatory interview by Bertolucci provided in this splendid double DVD package could be a good starting point in your reevaluation of his work.

It is not a coincidence that Bertolucci requested Frenchman Pierre Clementi to play the part of Jacob. His admiration for the ideals of the French New Wave and especially Jean-Luc Godard urged the director to seek a stylistic similarity with the works of the French masters that could not be achieved with an entirely Italian cast. I am not quite so sure this is a valid argument that characterizes the works of Bertolucci from the 60's but it certainly explains the fascination which the director had with French cinema. The 1960s were indeed a time of tremendous creative activity and Bertolucci certainly wanted to be part of it just as Rossellini, Olmi, Risi, and Pietrangeli attempted to reform the face of post-war Italian cinema mirroring the ideals of the French New Wave directors.

In this excellent double DVD set you would also find La Sua Giornata do Gloria a.k.a His Day of Glory, a film by Italian critic Edoardo Bruno, that was shown as part of the official selection at the Berlin Film Festival back in 1969. Recognized by Bertolucci as one of the most influential films of its time, capturing the urgency of the events from 1968, His Day of Glory was honored by the maestro with the inclusion of a few raw fragments from Partner. Largely a film that discusses, justifies, and propagandizes arm resistance and a replacement of the existing social order His Day of Glory is certainly a curious piece of cinema that once again proves how volatile the political conditions in post-war Italy were. Certainly the enthusiasm with which the film was scripted conveys that social disappointment was a major factor that influenced not only film directors but those that were supposed to criticize them as well.

It seems so unusual to see this early film by Barnardo Bertolucci receiving such a lavish treatment yet it is rather logical as Partner hardly feels like an outdated film. Imagine for a second that instead of depicting the uneasiness of the political environment in Italy from the early 60s the film was recapturing the Velvet Revolution Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic underwent in the late 80s and early 90s.The collapse of a system that relied on the very same ideals Partner is attempting to deconstruct makes this film an even more curious achievement. After all Partner could very well be the film that epitomizes the old cliché "everything new is the well forgotten old".

How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Partner has been fully restored from the original vault negatives kept in Italy. Let me state that I am utterly impressed with the condition in which this print is presented to us. I am uncertain what company has financed the restoration work (I assume the Italian based SURF FILM are responsible for it) but what we get in this DVD package absolutely meets all of the expectations I had about this early Bertolucci film. Colors are vivid, contrast handled perfectly, and edge enhancement held to a minimum. There were only two maybe three instances where I noticed a tiny speck appearing but that is absolutely not an issue for this DVD presentation. I also specifically looked for instances of digital manipulation and particularly the shimmering effect I noticed on some of NoShame's early titles…I could not spot any of these. I think it is also very important to point out that once again NoShame have properly flagged their latest batch of titles (including Love & Anger) and this makes all the difference in the world. With this said, regardless of how NoShame currently sources their DVDs (if they are still using the PAL masters I like the way they have downgraded the effects of the conversion, with other words I am happy to report that there is no "ghosting") they are doing a great job. All in all a steady job from the folks over at NoShame!!
In addition to Partner as mentioned above on disc 2 we are offered Edoardo Bruno's His Day of Glory. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 the film looks fairly good. Though not in the immaculate form Partner comes with Bruno's film is certainly treated with great care and respect. Contrast, print damage, and tone colors are all handled rather well.

How Does the DVD Sound? Presented with their original Italian mono tracks both Partner and His Day of Glory boast an excellent audio quality. I would specifically like to point out the fact that Partner must have undergone some very serious restoration work as the audio quality is absolutely top-notch. There are no audio-drops that I noticed and everything seems to be in perfect condition.

Extras:

Disc 1:

Dreams from the Other Side-Interview with Bernardo Bertolucci (38min).-Without a doubt one of the jewels in this DVD presentation. This specific interview alone forced me to consider the DVD set for DVDTALK's Collector's Series. I watched the interview twice as Bertolucci touches upon all major aspects of Partner, its history, and the political environments in Italy and France at the time. A very informative piece of extra.

To Edit a Partner- Interview with editor Roberto Perpignani (18min).- An excellent inside info from the cutting floor of Partner.

Lost & Found- Pierre Clementi's Silent Screen Test, Outtakes. (9min).-

Poster and Still Galerry-

Disc 2-

Edoardo Bruno's film His Day of Glory-

Back to Glory- Interview with director Edoardo Bruno (35min)-

Bits of Glory (silent) (12min). (Lou Castel's screen test, Laura Troschel's screen test, On Camera Rehearsals, Director Edoardo Bruno Rehearsing, actors in camera).

Poster and Still Gallery-

Addition:

I would specifically like to comment (yet again) on the spectacular collector's booklets that NoShame provide for their releases. Once again they have simply outdone themselves and I am most certainly impressed with what we are offered here. What you folks are getting with this double DVD set is a beautifully designed 10-page collector's booklet that includes the following:

Italian Cinema in the 60s: the other "New Wave"- a critical essay by Richard T. Jameson (a former editor of Movietone News and Film Comment and currently an editor at Queen Anne News in Seattle, WA) exploring the dependency between the French New Wave and the works of some of Italy's best known post-war directors.

Linear Notes (Partner) by Richard T. Jameson-

A beautiful color reproduction of the original poster art to Partner which appears in the middle of the booklet-

A short biography and selected filmography of the maestro Bernardo Bertolucci by Sean Alexander (a DVD columnist for the IMDB)-

It Was the End of the World as We Knew it, and We Felt Fine- a short note by the director of His Day of Glory explaining the history of the film and its fate (for the record the film is not available in Italy even on a VHS).

Final Thoughts: Seeing the evolution that NoShame have undergone from their first batch of titles to their latest spectacular double DVD presentation of Bernardo Bertolucci's PARTNER makes me so excited I can hardly describe how I feel in simple words. NoShame have certainly treated this little known in the US film with utmost respect and I am delighted to have it as part of my collection. Folks, this is how you treat a classic film by a classic director!!!

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