This nightmarish human monsters which belongs to Francis Bacon’s truthful genius of painting is what Bertolucci decided to use for his Last Tango. The director is catching the chance to express how human beings are the carriers of monstrous features either as a hint of their unconscious or directly as proud misbehavior. People are destructive with weapon or without, with hate or with amour, with vengefulness or with indifference, with suspiciousness or even appreciation, with pessimism or even optimism.


Paul, an American with a European destiny, who has just recently tragically lost his beautiful and an amazingly strong and intelligent wife, is trying to understand what was really going on with her and why. He is trying to verbalize his lost thoughts and he is blaming himself without understanding. Yes, she committed suicide out of nowhere, without giving any warning signs.


Paul cannot resist his tears. He is walking along the Parisian streets. He hasn’t noticed that he is being followed by a “strange” young woman. We see human grief in contrast with the monumental architecture.


Almost by chance he has appeared in this strange apartment with massive and quite dirty multi-rooms – he couldn’t go back to his own place. It didn’t take him very long to notice the presence of the young woman who was moving around the apartment opening the doors to various rooms. It looks like she was searching for an apartment to rent. Eventually she started to say something to Paul about sharing this huge place.


Eventually – through the fog of silence, they, kind of came to agree to share this unlimited place. But pay attention to Paul’s unexpectedly soft, almost “femininely” tender skin and Jeanne’s face, as if, just accumulating, assimilating the gentle light. It’s, as if, Bertolucci just carefully prepares the hero and heroine’s humanity to open up.

This is what it means to be a virtuoso cinema director and not a pusher of screen effects like moods and modes, voices and faces of the actors with pretentions and bravados who will eject themselves into the audience with pocket money.

A film as an action corresponds to the screen vision of the visual effects, but tenderness of human self-expression in front of another people is completely different – it slowly and carefully develops the human sensitivity between the person as an actor and the person as a perceiver. Of course, it creates discomforts when “innocent” rude mass-cultural behavior with its vulgarities on the both sides – film producer and film receiver – creates shocks. In “Last Tango” Bertolucci intentionally puts the audience through the brutal pop-cultural rudeness-crudeness of intentional sexual frankness.


Unexpectedly Paul couldn’t overcome his sudden allergic revolt against the street noise.


Step by step recovery of Paul’s family trauma is mixed with his sincere but awkward “pedagogical” effort. In a world which lives by mistakes because the system lives by it – more exactly – which lives by chronic mistakes of its leaders – mistakes become a way of life. At least with Paul the mistakes are noble and are not completely dangerous, although… Of course, what is important here is the pathological orientation of mass-cultural society itself.


Paul is fighting against “bullshit” everywhere, while the real problem is not the “bullshit” itself but using it for the extreme and disproportionate self-enrichment by the price of exploiting regular human beings. Brando’s character is rather a tormented person. And he is idealistic and existentially rather serious. He doesn’t need a young woman to exploit her youth – he is disappointed enough. He doesn’t want to dream and look for personal success and getting ahead of others. After the trauma of his wife’s death he needs Jeanne not as his sexual treasure, of course, but may be, some day, to create a new family…


Jeanne, (Maria Schneider) attractive and attractively naïve asks Paul endless questions about using old but good looking furniture in their new home. Her childish optimism was helping Paul to recover and, may be, even partially forget his predicament.


Paul was relaxing with Jeanne, but Bertolucci was working with Brando to help him handle the situation with a youth drowned in a sea of mass-culture entertainment and dreams of success and capriciousness and bravado. He took time to explain to Paul-Marlon Brando that sexual paradise for youth is limited and sometimes it can very quickly transform into hell without any chance for human relationship.

Young people feel full, brave and unlimited in their desires and possibilities. But Bertolucci explains that the prowess of the penis is limited and the stardom of ejaculation is not eternal. Yes, even a film-director should take some time to explain some prosaic truth to an even master-actor.


Paul and Jeanne are mischievously dancing and jokingly ruining the solid and pompous atmosphere. The situation ends scandalously with Paul and Jeanne as impossible pseudo-heroes and destroyers of the evening. Of course, Paul’s age and Jeanne’s youth saved the situation however the repercussion of it turns out to be unpleasant.


There were amazing moments in Paul and Jeanne’s relationship when they, as if forget the world and lived in each other’s embrace. They held one another as one body, as if, afraid of losing each other and didn’t want to awaken and be reminded of the world, the people and the street noise and screaming cars.


And they’re full of humor, irony and playfulness and jokes with one another, jokes which unexpectedly leads to an irresistible and mutual sexual desire…


But what happened here, in this shot?! Wasn’t Paul the object of pursuit (as we saw earlier when the anonymous Jeanne was full of morbid curiosity?) Why did the situation change so drastically? Now, it’s obviously – Paul the one who is pursuing Jeanne. What happened to these people?


Jeanne with Paul was always a young person looking up to the master who teaches her adulthood. But what happened now is that the younger generation, mainly in US but in Europe as well, doesn’t want to lose mass culture with its cheers and entertainment and, of course, they cannot lose the “fun” of cheerful moneymaking. In short, in the eyes of the ‘kids” like Jeanne, Paul’s new posture is, probably, considered too “adult” and too “serious”. It’s threatening. It’s no surprise that Paul secretly was dreaming that with Jeanne they would have children. He shared the burden of American and European vulgarity and rudeness and sarcasm for too long. And, now it seems it is Jeanne who lost her frivolous modality with him.


Paul didn’t know when he physically pursued Jeanne to the apartment of her parents that she was… armed – he thought that the girl was just joking running from him on the streets, since he liked to joke around. It’s not only in US, although, probably, more than in any other country, people including the young people are armed with weapons which are loaded ready to shoot and kill.


But his last gaze to the world was the dream and hope for truth. Poor Jeanne. Poor Paul. They both dreamed about the best. They both kept the best inside, Jeanne and Paul.


Francis Bacon’s two paintings about the shining truth of human ugliness which has nothing to do with the human appearance but it has everything to do with the human psychological condition.

Paul doesn’t plan or wants like self-aggrandized people to have personal success and have advantage over others. The development of the film suggests that he looks for existential transformation of life based on a democracy – humane life of togetherness. He was dreaming that Jeanne and he will start a new life – a new humane life with Jeanne as his ally in creating the new generation.

Bacon’s paintings emphasize that the man (the one on the left) and woman (the painting on the right) belong to two different paintings. The man on the left seems to have a rather attentive eyes, especially his left eye, as if, he was seriously looking at the woman on the right. His left eye is, as if, looking at the woman either challengingly or with a slight expectation of getting her reaction. But her big right eye looks naïvely wide open and kind of empty.

The sofa and the blanket which the man is reclining on are dark and marked by dirty spots while the light pink floor where the woman is sitting is clean. Both of them seem to behave with a matter-of-factly indifference. They are as they are, not more and not less.

“Crucifixion has apparently come to symbolize for Bacon man’s inhumanity to man.” Francis Bacon, p. 12

“The antithesis of the classical open pose of an erect, heroic subject, this closed, primeval hearing suggests hunkering primates or caveman squatting around a fire. Calling to mind naked men locked away in anonymous, windowless sells, this figure conveys the introspection, regression and withdrawal associated with prison or asylum inmates, the quintessential posture of man divested of civilization.” Francis Bacon, p. 29

“I think if you want to convey fact, this can only be done through a form of distortion. You must distort to transform what is called appearance into image.” P.41-42 (Francis Bacon by Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, “Modern Masters”, 1969)