LAST TANGO IN PARIS directed by Bernardo Bertolucci (France/Italy, 1972).

Paul shows Jeanne another use for household butter!

Paul finds religion as he shows Jeanne another use for household butter.

Pauline Kael is a critic I admire  but I have to agree to differ with her hyperbolic assessment of Bertolucci’s notorious movie as a masterpiece on a par with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

This is a film that I would defend but don’t particularly like. Its power to shock means that is as controversial now as when it was made.

Jeanne (Maria Schneider) is used, and abused, but it could be argued that she engages in consensual sex since she keeps coming back for more.

Pauline Kael

The anonymity of the sexual act adds to the frisson. Her older lover, Paul (Marlon Brando) insists that the sparsely furnished rooms in Paris should only be used for rutting and makes it a rule that they should never reveal their names or talk about the past. The fact that his unfaithful wife has just committed suicide gives him a good reason to want to blank out the outside world and start with a clean slate.

Of Brando’s character, Kael notes “his sexual anger, his glorying in his prowess, and his need to debase her and himself. He demands total subservience to his sexual wishes; this enslavement is for him the sexual truth, the real thing, sex without phoniness”.

"How was it for you?"

“How was it for you?”

She writes all this, not to criticise the movie, but to illustrate how iconoclastic it is and to explain why she regarded it as “the most powerfully erotic movie ever made”.

That a woman should not take issue with the violent and exploitative behaviour of this male predator shows that Brando and Bertolucci touched on an aspect of female desire that is glossed over or avoided entirely in most lovey-dovey mainstream films.

You only have to look at the astonishing success of Fifty Shades Of Grey and sequels to prove that the appeal of fucking without romance is not just the stuff of male fantasies.

Domination and violence can be a turn-on for women too provided that this occurs within well-defined boundaries.

Last Tango is a movie that presents harsh truths about the human psyche that most people, myself included, prefer to shy away from. While I admire Brando’s no holds barred performance, I find the brutality and cynicism of the film about as erotic as  a cold shower.

Related link:

Pauline Kael’s full review of Last Tango In Paris