“Mediocre. A mound of petty ideas. Full of petty ambitions. She’s all bed and kitchen.”
Post World War II seems to be a pretty fertile ground for Italian film makers. Both at the time, and depicting the period in the years since. Basing this on nothing but the handful of movies l’ve seen from and about this time, Italy seems embarrassed by (not quite ashamed of) the Mussolini years, and very eager to point out that the vast a majority of the population was not made up fascists. Movies like The Bicycle Thieves us that those who suffered most in those years soon after the war, were those who suffered under the fascists as well. With The Conformist, it’s the first time I’ve seen a story built around someone who unashamedly follows the fascist ethos and seeks direction via it.
Italy in the 30s, Mussolini and his Fascists are in power, but World War II has yet to kick off. Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintignant) has scored a spot in the Italian Secret Police and proudly tows the Fascist Party line. He has also decided that he wants a boring, regular life. By Marcello’s definition, that means marrying Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli), a woman he describes as, “a pretty bourgeoise”.
When Marcello receives a mission from the Secret Police, he decides to mix a little business and pleasure. An old college professor of Marcello’s (Enzo Tarascio as Quadri) is now in exile in France, after being outspoken in his opposition to the Fascists. Marcello is given the order to assassinate Quadri and decides that a honeymoon to Paris with his new wife is the perfect cover. Once there, Marcello’s ideals and commitment are put to the test. Both through Quadri’s reasoning, and through Marcello’s immediate attraction to his old professor’s young wife, Anna (Dominique Sanda).
Here’s the best bit about The Conformist. It doesn’t give Marcello the credit of being evil, or ruthless, or driven by a desire for glory. It makes him much less than that. It makes him weak. Marcello talks about wanting normalcy, but he talks about it in such derogatory terms of mundanity, that this sniveling little piece of shit has no idea what he wants, and only takes up with the Fascists in the hope that they’ll tell him what he wants. And really, when you’re watching a movie built around a character who represents something like fascism, there’s something very gratifying about that character being just the worst.