31 January 2008 | Lechuguilla
An Impression Of Normalcy
What I like most about this film is its visual style, owing to great art direction, and great color photography from famed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. In particular, those huge, empty rooms; those tilted lines; that expansive outdoor platform with the Eiffel Tower in the background; that indoor restaurant with its red-outlined windows are all examples of places in the film that make a profound impression on the eyes. The stunning visuals are helped along by a galloping score, and by terrific 1930's music, especially the song "Whose Happier Than I?"
By contrast, I found the film's story to be less interesting. Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a weak-willed man who feels different from others, in part because of an unfortunate childhood experience. His aim therefore is to be like everyone else, or at least to convey publicly an "impression of normalcy". Toward that objective, he becomes a fascist, a popular political brand in 1930's Italy. He journeys to Paris, where most of the story is set. The film's theme is very political, and wonderfully anti-fascist.
While the film's underlying concept is intriguing, the plot is dense and convoluted. It is helped not at all by jarring editing, and by a screenplay structure that relies too much on flashbacks. Further, most of the characters are not very likable. Marcello himself is both dull and too passive. His love interest is Giulia, a shallow, giggly young woman I found annoying. I did like the reference to Plato's Cave, a metaphor that directly relates to Marcello's predicament.
As a result of the cinematography and the cold weather, the tone of the film is generally bleak and dreary, consistent with the mindset of the film's protagonist. This is not a movie to watch when wanting to feel cheery or upbeat.
Because "The Conformist" is set in a bygone era, the story may not appeal to some viewers. However, its valid historical perspective adds depth to our understanding of twentieth century European politics. And with its great cinematography, art design, period piece costumes and background music, the film is worth at least a one-time viewing.