Long awaited among cinephiles, the DVD release of Bernardo Bertolluci’s Il Conformista arrived with a surprising lack of fan fare last December. The story, set during Mussolini’s reign, involves a fascist agent with a tragic past, tasked to assasinate his former mentor while in France. Especially lauded for its direction and Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography, The Conformist has been rightfully heralded as a visual masterpiece. Rarely mentioned though is the film’s locale selection and Production Design by Academy Award winner Ferdinando Scarfiotti (The Last Emperor).
An early sequence takes place within cold, fascist architecture of such immense scale that it becomes dehumanizing and symbolizes the protagonist Marcello effectively. The sequence was filmed at the EUR in Rome, a vast complex of office buildings and apartments commissioned by Mussolini and developed by architect Piacentini in the 1930’s. Unlike the similar structures Hitler devised for Berlin, the EUR is still occupied today.
Later in the film, Marcello has a conversation with his former Professor in a corner study. Marcello recites the story of the cave from Plato’s Republic, his shadow play mimicing the allegorical tale. Upon conclusion the Professor makes an astute observation and reopens the shutters of a window, the flood of light swallowing Marcello’s shadow.
Paramount’s remastered DVD release is sparse adding only three making of documentaries and a previously deleted scene, hence the extended edition moniker. It’s certainly not the Criterion treatment, but it’s a quality transfer at an inexpensive price. A must for anyone interested in cinematic design.