Directed by: BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI
1976, TSPDT Rank #320
With the release of Last Tango in Paris in 1972, Bernardo Bertolucci had become an infamous international sensation. However, 1900 has much more in common with Bertolucci's 1970 film The Conformist. It starts where that film left off - with the end of World War II and the liberation of Italy from Mussolini's fascist regime in 1945. Also, like The Conformist, 1900 deals with Italy's dark history of fascism and its roots; but instead of exploring this history through a pared-down, psychological character study, as he does in The Conformist, here Bertolucci explores it in the form of a grandiose, archetypal epic. Over the course of the film (which runs over five hours), Bertolucci expresses this history as a battle between the opposing forces of fascism and society - with the oppressive and complex relationship between wealthy landowners and the peasants who worked their land shown as the essential root of the conflict. Although it starts off with a brief introductory sequence set in 1945, the majority of the film plays out in flashback - beginning in 1901, as two children are born on an Italian estate on the same day. One is a fatherless peasant child, while the other is the grandson of the estate's owner. The two children grow up together, but end up on opposite sides as Italy descends into fascism, with more than a hint of Cain and Abel incorporated into the narrative as their lives progress. With such a broad, archetypal focus, the film has a tendency to be morally simplistic and heavy-handed, but Bertolucci uses these qualities to give the film an added level of power - with the qualities of good and evil amplified to dizzying extremes, and the story's potential for nostalgia fully utilized to express the range of emotions which accompany the passage of time. Bertolucci pulled out all the stops with this film - earning the accusations of self-indulgence which have been leveled at him in some respects (particularly in regards to the ridiculous final section), but pulling off something of a flawed masterpiece in the process. For all its flaws, the film is frequently engrossing and unexpectedly powerful, with the sublime cinematography from Vittorio Storaro helping to pull the viewer in as the film unfolds, while amplifying the intensity and potency of the film's moral extremes. Some may not have the patience for Bertolucci's overly grandiose statements, but for those who can overlook the flaws, there is a work of great beauty and audacity waiting to be found underneath them.