Last Tango in Paris
1972. Starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider as Paul and Jeanne.

The story of a man and woman who meet in an apartment for sexual interludes without knowing each other's names, this film is about pleasure, pain, isolation, and human interactions. The lighting design for this film was heavily influenced by the work of painter Francis Bacon, and Bertolucci again used Vittorio Storaro for the cinematography (they collaborated on both The Spider's Strategem and The Conformist). The effect of this association with Bacon is an orange film, "rich [in] light and cool grays, icy whites, and occasional reds [which] combine with Bertolucci's own tasteful chosices of soft browns, blond browns, and delicate whites with bluish and pink shadings." (Tonetti, 127)

  • The very beginning of the film declares Bertolucci's intentional use of Bacon's work; two of Bacon's paintings were used as counterpoint images for the opening credits. To the left is Portrait of Lucian Freud (1964) and to the right Study for Portrait (Isabel Rawsthorne) (1964).

  • The first image depicts a man wearing white underclothes lying on a red couch. In the second painting a woman in a white coat and brown skirt is seated on a chair. Bertolucci used these portraits as visual counterparts to his two main characters, Paul and Jeanne. The costume design, as well as character development and acting, correspond to these artistic portrayals.

  • For example, Jeanne is introduced wearing a long, white coat over a brown skirt, just as in Bacon's painting. Similarities between Marlo Brando and Francis Bacon are also notable in the film, in that there are comparable images between the film and some of Bacon's self-portraits. Bacon painted many self-portrait studies wherein he wears a brown over-coat, which is also an ever-present aspect of Paul's costume design.

  • Thus, from the very beginning of the film, a subtextual aspect of the main characters' personalities is implied through their association with Francis Bacon. Further interpretation of these characters as they develop throughout the rest of the film must therefore also be understood in a Baconian context; we must understand Bacon before we can understand Paul and Jeanne.

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