PARTNER (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1968)

Combining Marx and Freud, as was his wont in his early days, writer-director Bernardo Bertolucci, along with co-scenarist Gianni Amico, used Dostoievski’s 1846, pre-imprisonment novella The Double: A Petersburg Poem, which they moved to Italy and updated to the pro-Vietcong student-protest present, as a springboard for Il sosia, a dark, often opaque and arty, although witty and intriguing film about a young avant-garde theater teacher, Giacobbe, who longs to muster the will and boldness to pursue his Clara and bring his revolutionary promptings to the world of political reality. Enter his doppelgänger, on one level to spark this will, but on another level, vis-à-vis him, dramatizing his ambivalence, paralysis. Note what isn’t the first word of this paragraph: Blending. Perhaps Bertolucci, then in his mid-twenties, felt (if only now and then) that he had to choose between Marx and Freud, politics and psychoanalysis. While it is true that he was en route to his most political film, The Conformist (1970) is set in the Fascist era and, postwar, right after, and Bertolucci himself was headed for the first time to his psychoanalyst’s couch.
     Everyone agrees that the film is under the influence of Godard (one critic claims that Bertolucci is exorcising this influence; considering The Conformist, one must say the exorcism failed); but whereas Godard conceives of films in non-narrative terms, Bertolucci conceives of his in narrative terms but then goes and jerks up, obscuring, the storyline. Over time, he became more and more conventional and (presumably) himself.
     Giacobbe is funny when he boxes his own shadow or converses with himself aloud, attempting to spur his gumption; but the killer he becomes under the other Giacobbe’s tutelage is a bummer, however dazzling Pierre Clémenti’s double performance the year after his half-performance in Buñuel’s Belle de jour.

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