The Conformist

Released:  1970

Cast:  Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin, Dominique Sanda, Pierre Clementi

SUMMARY:  As a child during World War I, Marcello Clerici is nearly molested by his family’s chauffeur, Lino (Pierre Clementi).  Marcello initially does not object, but soon grabs Lino’s pistol and starts shooting wildly:  one of these shots hits Lino, and Marcello assumes that the man is dead.  In the late 1930s, Marcello is engaged to Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli), whose parents are Catholic.  In order for Marcello and Giulia to get married, her parents want him to go to confession.  Marcello agrees, and tells the priest he has committed nearly every sin, including murder.  However, he also mentions that he is part of the Facist secret police (OVRA), which leads to rapid absolution from the priest.  Marcello has been given one task by OVRA:  eliminate Italian ex-pat Luca Quadri, a former professor now living in Paris.  Quadri is openly and loudly anti-Facist, and is leading an anti-Facist group.  He is causing so much trouble that OVRA has decided to have him killed.  There is only one issue for Marcello:  Quadri was his professor, and something of a mentor, in college.  However, he agrees to do the job, and decides to use his honeymoon as a cover story.  OVRA also sends along Manganiello (Gastone Moschin), whose job is to both protect Marcello and make sure he doesn’t back out.

In Paris, Marcello contacts Quadri under the guise of a student reuniting with his professor.  Quadri is also married, to a young woman named Anna (Dominique Sanda).  Both Anna and Marcello are attracted to each other, and they nearly have an affair.  However, Marcello notices that Anna also seems to be seducing Giulia.  His cover is quickly blown:  Quadri and Anna know that he is working for OVRA, and is there to at least spy on them.  However, when Quadri tests Marcello by asking him to take a letter to an anti-Facist in Rome, Marcello does not refuse or take the letter to a superior.  Quadri believes this shows that Marcello does not truly believe in the Facist movement.  Manganiello has been following Marcello, and after the letter incident, Marcello returns the gun he was given.  He says he cannot kill Quadri, but does give Manganiello the address of the house where Quadri will be heading the next day.  Despite initially deciding to stay with Marcello and Giulia for another day, Anna decides to join her husband on this journey, and OVRA decides that she will have to be killed as well.  Marcello and Manganiello follow the Quadri car in one of their own, and watch as a diversion stops the Quadris.  When Luca gets out of the car, he is surrounded by men who have been hiding in the woods.  They stab him repeatedly as Anna watches from the car.  When the men turn on her, she gets out of the car and runs back to Marcello’s car.  However, when she sees his face, she starts screaming and runs into the woods.  The assassins pursue her, and eventually shoot and kill her.  Marcello remains in the car during the entire incident, to the disgust of Manganiello.  In 1943, Mussolini is ejected from the Italian government as World War II turns.  Marcello and Giulia have a young daughter, but are not living the same opulent lifestyle they once enjoyed.  On the evening of the overthrowing, Marcello receives a phone call from an old Facist friend, who wants to meet.  The two walk through the streets together, and happen upon two other men.  Marcello realizes that one of them is Lino (the chauffeur), and begins wildly and loudly denouncing him as a homosexual and a Facist:  he even claims that Lino is responsible for killing Quadri and Anna.  When the friend begs him to stop, Marcello also begins denouncing him.  Just then, a parade marches through, and the friend is carried off with them.  Marcello is left behind in the dark street.

MY TAKE:  This film is really confusing for probably the first half — there’s a bunch of cuts between the present, where Marcello and Manganiello are riding in the car, and various past times.  These flashbacks help tell the story, but it’s hard to figure out what is the present and what is the past:  the fact that you have absolutely no idea what Marcello and Manganiello are talking about does not help, either.  Finally, there is no mention of time period, so I wasn’t really sure when the movie was set.  At the start, I assumed it was set in the time it was made (late 60s-early 70s), but when they kept talking about Facism, I started wondering.  I’m pretty sure Facism has not been a major political power in Italy since WWII and Mussolini.  I actually had to look up the movie on the Internet to confirm this, though.  Things do sort of come together toward the end of the movie, but Marcello’s motivation and actions become unclear.  First of all, he just gets married, then nearly has an affair with the wife of the man he’s supposed to kill?  He’s lucky he didn’t get offed himself for that one.  Then, he apparently decides that he can’t kill Quadri, but still goes to the scene of the murder and watches the whole thing.  I think he’s just extremely weak-willed, and follows whatever the strongest tide of sentiment around him:  when the Facists got popular, he went in with them; after the war, when it is inconvenient to be Facist, he denounces old friends.  Basically, he’s a coward.  I thought that assassination was probably the worst hit in the history of the world, and since Italy is famously the home of the Mafia, I expected better.  Seriously, why have a whole bunch of men stabbing at the same time?  First of all, you risk one of them ratting, and secondly, it’s a lot messier than something like a gunshot.  I suppose the reasoning is that no one man can honestly say that he was responsible, sort of like a firing squad, but they’re all bound to have blood on them.  Of course, maybe the reason they used knives is because they’re all terrible shots, which they proved while trying to kill Anna.  It’s not like she was running in some complicated serpentine pattern, so I don’t know why they couldn’t even seem to nick her.  Somebody finally does, presumably in the back, but you can’t see any wound.  Instead, her face is all bloody, but her clothes are pristine.  How this happens, when the victim is facing away from the shooters, I do not know.

RATING:  Confusing and somewhat irritating.

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