A really interesting film, this one, a really stylish movie, beautiful to look at and with a look and tone that reminds me very much of Once Upon A Time in America (and it could be that Leone deliberately echoed Bertolucci).
Jean-Louis Trintignant’s Marcello is recruited into the pre-war Italian Fascist secret service – or rather, he volunteers, with some help from a blind friend and party activist, Lino. Much of the film takes place in Paris, as Marcello accepts a gun and a mission to spy on his college professor, Quadri, and his daughter Anna (Dominique Sanda), left wing refugees from Mussolini’s thugs.
There are a number of flashbacks, as we see Marcello marry a lively (if rather simple) Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) in a seeming attempt to achieve some kind of normality, as he reveals in the required Catholic confession prior to his wedding; we also see some of his family and history, as some kind of explanation, or at least background, to his abnormality.
Once in Paris, Marcello’s orders change and he is ordered to assassinate Quadri and Anna, which task is complicated by his desire for her, and Anna’s desire for Giulia. Marcello, although he acts cool and controlled, is full of doubts and his handler, Manganiello, rightly identifies him as a coward. The film follows Marcello’s experiences so we see things largely from his point of view but we are not necessarily expected to sympathise with him much, and he is not the most likeable of leads.
Throughout the film, the cinematography is amazing, with fantastic and fantastical shots, with wonderful constructions of light, shade and colour. Occasionally, this tips over into silliness, when the camera, following a speeding car, tips left and then in the next shot tips right, in what could be a pastiche of fussy camerawork, or when the light in a room seems to be forming horizontal and vertical striped shadows on different walls in a way unfeasable in natural circumstances.
Still, there is much to like, both in style and substance.