The Conformist, Italy, 1970, 115 min. Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Dominique Sanda. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. The title protagonist lives in 1930’s fascist Italy and is so determined to fit in he marries a woman he doesn’t really like and agrees to carry out a mission that is dangerous both in its execution and its implications. Bertolucci, with the help of Vittorio Storaro’s masterful cinematography, examines what an obsessive need for acceptance could do to a man’s soul.
Tristana, France, 1970, 98 min. Starring Catherine Deneuve, Fernando Rey, Franco Nero. Directed by Luis Buñuel. Denueve plays the title character, who must go live with her appointed guardian Rey after her mother dies. When she takes up with a bohemian artist, Rey is none too pleased, especially because his interest in her is something other than fatherly. Buñuel focuses his camera on class distinctions, religion and perversity – three of his favorite subjects – but this film is a lot more subdued than most of his later work and, in a way, almost feels like a final return to the sort of melodrama he concentrated on during his Mexican period.
The Go-Between, UK, 1970, 116 min. Starring Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Dominic Guard. Directed by Joseph Losey. Lavish film about a young boy in Edwardian times who finds himself ferrying love letters between an upper class woman and a simple farmer. Losey uses the love story to construct an incisive examination of class differences.
The French Connection, USA, 1971, 104 min. Starring Gene Hackman, Roy Schieder, Fernando Rey. Directed by William Friedkin. Taut crime drama about two narcotics officers attempting to bring down an international drug ring. Hackman’s performance as the tightly-wound, profane cop Popeye Doyle apparently gave him pause (he wasn’t comfortable with the violent, abusive nature of the character), but you would never guess it from what ended up on screen. And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that the film includes one of the finest car chases of all time.
The Last Picture Show, USA, 1971, 118 min. Starring Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepard, Timothy Bottoms, Cloris Leachman. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich broke out into the limelight with this slice of life drama about the denizens of a small Texas town in the ’50s and their reactions to the changing times. Larry McMurtry co-scripted with the director from his own novel.
Death In Venice, Italy, 1971, 130 min. Starring Dirk Bogarde, Mark Burns, Marisa Berenson, Silvana Mangano. Directed by Luchino Visconti. Bogarde gives, perhaps, the performance of his career as an avant-garde composer who, while languishing in the title city, finds himself infatuated with a beautiful young boy, ultimately to his severe detriment. Visconti tells his story – which clearly felt quite personal to him – largely through visuals, and sumptuous visuals at that.
Last Tango in Paris, Italy-France, 1972, 129 min. Starring Marlon Brando. Maria Schneider, Jean-Pierre Léaud. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. An American living in Paris trying to cope with his wife’s suicide immerses himself in a torrid sexual relationship with a girl he doesn’t know. Extremely controversial when it was released, this may not be as sexually shocking as it once was, but it’s just as raw emotionally, with Brando getting the most out of his Method.
Badlands, USA, 1973, 95 min. Starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates. Directed by Terrence Malick. Dramatization inspired by the Charles Starkweather/Carole Fugate crime spree in South Dakota. Malick would only direct one more film before disappearing off the radar for twenty years, but the influence of this film would be felt for just as long and can still be discerned today. The barren landscapes that the camera catches mirror the indifference with which the couple commit their crimes. Chillingly effective.
The Godfather Part II, USA, 1974, Starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. One of the rare examples of a sequel not only equaling, but, to the minds of some, surpassing the original. This film both continues the story of Michael Corleone’s rise to power in organized crime and portrays in flashbacks the earlier ascendance of a young Don Corleone. Violent and compelling.
The Conversation, USA, 1974, 113 min. Starring Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. A surveillance expert finds his life getting complicated when he breaks his own cardinal rule – never get personally involved. A gripping portrait of post-Watergate paranoia, but also a finely tuned portrayal of one man’s quiet desperation.
1900, Italy-France-Germany, 1977, 311 min. Starring Gerard Depardieu, Robert De Niro, Donald Sutherland, Burt Lancaster. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Sprawling epic of two men, one born well-off, the other to a family of laborers, whose lives intertwine over the first half of the twentieth century. Their fascinating story symbolically lays out the various turning points and events causing the political upheaval that led to fascism, communism and World War II.