Last Tango in Paris

Saturday, July 14, 2007

It's somewhat amusing that some people label Last Tango in Paris as pornography. It kind of misses the point of the film and it also shows a lack of understanding as regards the English language. After all, the only aim of pornography is to stimulate sexual excitement. So if you class Last Tango in Paris as pornography you're kind of admitting that you're turned on by Marlon Brando being finger buggered as he talks about pigs vomiting. Well, live and let live if that's what gets you off...

But although pig sick dirty talk and butter-aided ass poundings inevitably get the lion share of the attention when Last Tango in Paris is mentioned, the film is actually an excellent film about a man who, in the wake of his wife's suicide, is hell-bent on self-destruction. It's about a man stripping away the BS of relationships and having one last dance before he implodes.

The film is easily at its best when it deals with Paul (Brando). Here you have a man who's been betrayed by his wife – not only by her committing suicide but through infidelity, too – and who responds by having an affair with a young girl. The relationship that develops is one that is completely stripped down. Gone are the niceties and the daily charades; Paul doesn't even want to know the girl's name. Instead they're free to have anonymous sex, sex that is free from ties and all the headaches that can go with being 'together'. And for a while things flourish. Jeanne, the girl Paul involves himself with, even says it's beautiful not knowing anything. But inevitably, as human nature kicks in, things slowly deteriorate.

One of the problems of sustaining an anonymous relationship is that once the initial thrill has gone there's little to preserve things. But at the same time, once you begin to reveal your true character, as Paul and Jeanne do, you open the door to human emotions. And of course it's the emotions that cause all the problems. One of the earliest signs that things are beginning to go downhill is when Jeanne asks whether they should leave the apartment together – Paul slams the door on her. Now if this was a truly casual relationship, this wouldn't be a problem, but such a thing rarely exists. Therefore a slammed door shows how little Jeanne means to Paul, how pointless the relationship really is.

But Paul isn't immune either. He gets talking to Jeanne about her fiancé. She says what a wonderful lover he is. Again, if this relationship were truly casual, this wouldn't matter. But instead Paul gets jealous. He even says the best fuck she'll even get is from him. The male ego is a fragile thing.

There's another excellent scene that deals with the male ego. Paul, who has inherited the hotel he lived in with his wife, goes to the room of one of his permanent guests. The man is one of his dead wife's lovers and they even wear the same towelling robe (given by the dead woman, of course). But rather than show hostility, they have a cordial little chat. But the great thing that happens is that as Paul gets up to leave, and as the man is happily showing Paul how he keeps in shape by doing chin-ups, he wonders aloud, with utter disdain in his voice, what his wife saw in such a man. Again the male ego can't comprehend female infidelity; we all think we're the prime example of masculinity, an example that is so great that no woman would ever wander.

And of course there's the fabulous scene where Paul talks to his dead wife's body. He curses her and calls her a liar, but in the end he's still trying to seek refuge in her arms. Paul, like a lot of men, will forgive a lot of things, but the hardest thing to forgive is that his wife isn't there for him any more. And so Paul, in a desperate need for companionship, and in a mad desire to strip sex and relationships to their fundamental elements, begins his affair with Jeanne. But although the whole idea of the relationship is to build a wall around things, to protect himself from being burned, it doesn't work. And it doesn't work because Paul and Jeanne develop feelings for each other.

But although Paul's character is investigated with precision, it's hard to know what Jeanne's motivations are. She's portrayed as a young girl happily in love (sort of) with a young man, and as such she doesn't seem like the type who'd want to submit herself to the whims of a corpulent, self-destructive American. But maybe the clue is in her boyfriend. He's one of the most irritating characters in film history. However, this isn't entirely intentional. Sure he's meant to be a little bit overbearing and a tad suffocating, but we're meant to admire his passion. He's meant to be a young romantic, a man who is making a film about his girl. But although the majority of the film is magnificent, the scenes with the filmmaker are almost unbearable. He's a pretentious fool, a bland child-man. So maybe that's why Jeanne submits herself to buggery and comes back for more; her fiancé's a twit.

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