29 February 2016 | axpalm
Bertolucci's Most Underrated Work
A decade after the worldwide success of LAST TANGO and a half-dozen years following his ambitious failure NOVECENTO (1900), Bernardo Bertolucci makes his most restrained, workmanlike and nuanced film.
There's nothing as stylish as there is in his great film THE CONFORMIST, there's no Marlon Brando as the last American in Paris as there is in TANGO, there's only a wholly-realized work, full of quiet daring.
Ugo Tognazzi, a veteran of Italian film and theater, is Primo Spaggiari, a cheese factory owner in Northern Italy, who accidentally witnesses the kidnapping of his only son.
Flanked by his glamorous French wife, played by the accomplished Anouk Aimee, his son's radical, sexy girlfriend, played by the talented Laura Morante, and a priest who seems capable of anything, actor Victor Cavallo... the drama unfolds. A cloud of mystery hangs over the autumnal landscape. A director who made his career an Oedipal quest in search of the father, now turns his gaze around... the father searches for his son.
Bertolucci, working with his actors and aided by veteran cinematographer Carlo Di Palma, who made his name working with Michelangelo Antonioni (RED DESERT and BLOW-UP), transforms the countryside of Emilia (where he's from) and the estate with the factory, into a vast theater of contemporary Greek tragedy. The stunning shot of large cheese wheels in the factory refrigerator that Spaggiari refers to as his "Fort Knox," Spaggiari's bicycle ride across the city of Parma that is a small time capsule of postwar Italian cinema and the beguiling ending are scenes that, alone, would make this film worth seeing.
I've watched this film a number of times at repertory cinemas, on television, and on old VHS. It grows with each viewing. Something new to see or discover every time I watch it and WATCHING is one of the various themes of this film. It's a major crime that such a film is not on DVD or Blu ray in North America.
A hearty thank you to Bertolucci for this superb work, his most underrated film.