by Abbey Bender
One memorable night this past summer, I found myself rather bored and (as is often the case) in the mood to watch a movie. I did what any college cinephile in a constant state of 1970s nostalgia would do—I watched Last Tango in Paris. It was perfect—my parents were away on a trip, and as soon as I pressed play I felt I was stepping into some grand cinematic tradition. Like a total snob, my post-viewing diary notes mention that I was seeing this film while everyone else was out watching The Dark Knight Rises, a movie I have no desire to see, and imagine is Last Tango’s opposite. Last Tango was completely satisfying for me, and not because of all the sex—though I’m always a fan of films that combine the erotic with the weird, or don’t reward our erotic impulses as we might expect. What struck me most was the aesthetic, and the sense of longing, or curious nostalgia and romanticizing of the cinematic medium, it aroused (pun intended, I suppose). I was intrigued by the way in which Bertolucci treated the interior space. The apartment, the stage for the affair, is shown as a sort of collection of geometric divisions. The space between rooms is emphasized as the camera travels. We look into the rooms from a voyeuristic perspective, which is further enhanced by telling shots of the characters appearing behind blurred glass. There’s a softness to that burnished, perfectly 1970s yellow-brown aesthetic, but at the same time the architectural divisions, and the symmetry of scenes of walking along the bridge or the train platform feel more aggressive. Of course, such contrasts between hard and soft can have erotic connotations, a possibility that manifests itself on Maria Schneider’s sweet baby face as she engages in naughty acts. There’s something warm and enveloping in the tones and texture of the film, but at the same time, there’s always unease lurking there. I can think of no better film to watch for the first time on a summer night spent by one's lonesome.