Thursday, 6 September 2007

Partner / Novecento

I spent most of yesterday watching these two Bertolucci films, very different except for in their left-wing political commitment.

Partner, made in 1968 and at the height of Bertolucci’s Godard fixation, is an extremely free adaptation of a Dostoyevksy story. A disaffected young man, Giacobbe, is contemplating suicide when he happens to encounter his exact double, also called Giacobbe, who saves him. There is some nice technique in getting the two Giacobbe’s to appear on screen at the same time and elsewhere, but otherwise the film seems somewhat hermetic, the kind of thing that doesn’t translate very well beyond its particular cultural and historical context in its references to Artaud, the Situationists, Vietnam and so on.

1900 / Novecento, released in 1976, came at the point when Bertolucci had rejected the Godardian excesses of Partner and, in particular, decided not to follow his former mentor in the direction of making political films politically – a decision that, by way of Last Tango in Paris, opened the doors to Hollywood production money. As such, it’s technique is far more conventional – or, if one followed the Godard line, hopelessly compromised ideologically, whatever political points the narrative might want to make. A five hour epic spanning the period from 1900 to 1945, it is the story of two representative individuals born on the same day, one the son of the padrone and the other from peasant stock, their friendships and relationships, all set against the backdrop of the rise and fall of fascism. Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu incarnate the adult characters, while Donald Sutherland is a somewhat cartoon fascist.

Ennio Morricone provides the music for both films, with the difference between them – 1900’s rich, romantic, sweeping themes having that unofficial national anthem quality, whereas Partner’s music is all cut-up, abruptly dropping in and out and including a delicious advertising jingle parody – perhaps emblematic of their overall approaches.

Other points of filone film interest include the casting of Pierre Clementi as Giacobbe, suggesting a line of descent / influence to The Designated Victim, and the presence of Tina Aumont, Alida Valli, Stefania Casini and Laura Betti among others, serving to indicate the crossover of acting talent between the A- and B- cinemas at this time.

Intriguingly Fulci also drew inspiration from Artaud when making City of the Living Dead and The Beyond; one would love to have known what judgements Artaud would have made as to the relative merits of Bertolucci's arthouse and Fulci's grindhouse applications of his theory...

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