Just recently I went to the cinemas to watch not the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but a film from the yesteryears.. Last tango in Paris. A1972 brilliance.
I had not heard of the film before, so I just did my usual verification - read the plot and checked the IMDB rating, and proposed going .. My partner in crime, K, being a bit more aware than me had heard about the film and agreed to join.
After watching the film, I and K seamlessly drifted into having a very intuitive and interesting discussion about the film which led me to the idea to try and write about my film experience and also a bit around what we discussed.
This film was strange. It bordered on the fact that it was not politically correct, it was not organised, nor was it logical .. It was real. It was what untamed life mostly looks like - raw, real, gray and harsh.
The film opened showing the protagonist Paul, 42, walk aimlessly under a noisy railway bridge. It gave a feeling that Paul is very disturbed and the cacophony within his head is resonating with the noise from the trains and is visibly unbearable to him. Soon after, he meets this young girl, Jeanne in a flat which both of them go to check out with a view of renting it for themselves.
The apartment itself is quite symbolic, to a certain extent it presents the state of mind of Paul and Jeanne - very lived-in but still isolated, rustic, worn down but still strangely charming and mystical. At this point, Paul suddenly imposes himself on Jeanne and has impulsive, direct, unprepared, unceremonious and empty sex. I would not like to call it rape, because Jeanne did not seem to really resist it or even feel violated by the action later. It was almost like this was what they both needed at that moment -- some mindless sex.
Paul demonstrates incomprehensible control over Jeanne and he says they will meet again in the same place and also tells her how their relationship will be -- nameless and without any identity. Jeanne accepts with a hint of adventure, reluctance and amusement -- understandable for a 20 year old iconoclast ..
The film has an abundance of sex scenes but none of them seemed romantic to me, it was almost like an activity which helped them deal with their internal turbulence -- almost like a vent to their internal turmoil. All through they both seemed extremely comfortable around eachother -- making strange and funny noises, staying naked, talking about unnatural sexual fantasies .. all this seemed possible partly because they had nothing to hide, nothing to prove or nothing to lose. The thought of a relationship like this just fills you with a feeling of liberation, of actually renouncing identity -- to not have a face or a name or any belongingness.
Most people, atleast I struggle with balancing morals with desire and individuality. For me what Jeanne was doing with Paul was grossly unfair and immoral since she was due to be married in 2 weeks, and her fiance had no clue of what was going on. Having said that, morals are man made and they are not scientific -- so what is immoral to me, may be moral to someone else, and visa versa. I think it takes great courage and self-love to transcend rules and do things solely for personal desires -- that could be joyous or masochistic.. whatever it is, it is very selfish.
I am not of the opinion that being selfish is bad, or unessential, or that it is not in fact sometimes harder to be selfish than to be selfless -- because you need to be able to face yourself everyday in the mirror and still believe in the person that you are -- this surely is not easy for people who care more about themselves. Also, in the longer run, unless an activity or a relationship does not give you what you personally desire, it will sooner or later fall apart. Okay, so I just realised that I am drifting from the film and entering into a different discussion altogether .. :- ) .. Coming back to the film ..It was interesting to note that in the film, the woman was shown naked most times in the apartment - it seemed to be symbolic of the fact that she was aware of her sexual power, was more confident and had lesser desire/reasons to hide to protect herself from anything, as against the man who seemed to be dealing with greater hurt and was more deeply vulnerable? I don't know.. 'K' made an interesting observation -- he thought that Pauls idea and restraint in wanting to know anything about the woman was seeding from the fact that he did not want to deal with any more deceive or lies. Hence avoided the whole situation altogether. Its an interesting point..
The only point in the film which I thought could qualify to rape was the sodomy scene .. Jeanne did not seem to enjoy what she was going through. Having said that, I also faintly think that she probably needed to go through the violation to let go of her trapped feelings and acknowledge the reality of the situation .. This incident was followed by her running away from her fiance afer her wedding dress trail session and then confessing her love to Paul.. where she says she would do 'anything' for him to prove her love for him.. At this point, I feel that the restrained Paul felt that he was unable to maintain the 'no-emotion-involved' stance of the relationship -- it made Paul aware that even though he did want this relationship to not mean anything emotional, but it still transcended his own rules.
The very next day Paul unceremoniously disappears from the apartment and Jeanne, not knowing anything about him, had no way of contacting him .. It was like a hard stop to their relationship. Jeanne goes back to her original life until Paul resurfaces -- under the same bridge and runs upto Jeanne disclosing her his name.
This is followed up with some crazy drunk tango where he confesses that he loves her too but Jeanne, over the course of the evening realized that she had moved far away from this man. She displayed fear of him following her around like a man madly in love until they reach Jeannes mothers flat and she reaches out to her fathers gun and pulls the trigger on him.
The ending to the film was a bit shocking to me -- i was unprepared. The murder did not seem like one that was being done in cold blood, but the lies she said later (presumably to the police) that she had no idea who the man was, and that the man was trying to rape her and she killed him in self defence is ironic .. Its ironic because Pauls dead wife also lied to him which in conjunction with her death drove him to being what he was when he started seeing Jeanne, and now again the woman he came to love betrayed him with her lies.
This film, from the start to the end, showed untreated and crude emotions. It did not try to make anything seem prettier or more acceptable than what it was. It had the audacity and heroism to question ethics, to give selfish love a space and acceptance in the world. It had the courage to expose that people are people in the end of the day.
The film is fearless. And I loved it for that.
Not to mention my company for the film, K made it more interesting -- from giggling in the cinema, to getting cutely annoyed at the narrator who was almost being a spoiler, to the very engaging discussion on the film and eventually a great dinner at a restaurant which we thought had disappeared and we walked 5 times up and down the south bank trying to locate it just to later remember that we had to take the stairs up the waterloo bridge.... :-)
What life you lead if you donít lead a life you love?