A new restoration of Bernardo Bertolucci’s masterpiece (out on Raro Video) does his later work few favors. Made under the supervision of Bertolucci and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, the corrected picture accentuates a balance in form & content which leaves his other pics either straining for effect (say, 1900/’76) or coasting on pure visual dazzle (like LITTLE BUDDHA/’93). Told in his preferred non-linear style, some puzzling elements only come into focus on a second viewing, but you’ll hardly mind. The movie is a 1930s political fever-dream, with Jean-Louis Trintignant’s wary Italian Fascist honeymooning in Paris, while awaiting for word on his assignment against a former professor, now a major figure in the French Popular Front. But Trintignant’s conflicted nature, shown with striking clarity by Bertolucci in vivid dips into his past*, threaten any foreordained conclusion. Under another director, the film might have played out as a series of bravura set pieces (the ballroom dance, an assassination in the snowy woods, a nightmarish walk thru Rome at war’s end); instead, momentum accumulates as we get to know the characters & situations from different angles. It all looks more thrillingly modern than ever.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Where many directors would signify the past by fading to b&w or toning down color saturation, Bertolucci does the opposite to show how memory can be heightened thru time.