It's not easy to rate an experimental film on the same scale as films that were intended to be seen by wider commercial audiences, and "Partner" is an experimental film. Many have criticized Bertolucci for aping Godard's style in this film, and certainly there are liberal elements of "Two Or Three Things I Know About Her" and "Weekend," but the camera work and cinematography and even the Morricone score are all indicative of an Italian filmmaker, more so than the French new wave that served as the defacto inspiration. But if one is forced to point out the films that it followed, one should also illuminate the many films that it inspired, whether directly or indirectly, and that list is at least as impressive. The easy heir is "Fade To Black," which follows a would-be actor on his descent into madness and murder. The over-the-top performance of Pierre Clementi is exchanged (perhaps as a sign of the times) for the understated twitchiness of Dennis Christopher, but the whole story is here. One can chose to credit the original Dostoyevsky story, but the film reference reads truer as an influence on the later film when considering what a lose adaptation "Partner" was of "The Double." In fact, Conrad's "The Secret Sharer" could just as easily have served as the source material when dissected the faithfulness of the Amico script of the Russian author's work (and of course only for the sake of argument, as Dostoyevsky is clearly credited). Less obvious may be the impact that Partner had on Bertolucci's Italian peers. A mere year later, "Love And Anger" would unite the Italian filmeratti with Godard to launch a collaborative New Wave film. It's unlikely this would have happened were it not for the release of "Partner." Likewise, the classroom discussions of "Zabriskie Point" betray more in common with this film than with Antonioni's previous output, and yet it can also be said that certain scene compositions in "Partner" could trace their routes back to Antonioni's "Blow Up." The composition is very similar though the camera movement is not. Even when examining Bertolucci's future output, one can point to Partner as the turning point in his artistic style. Up to that point his work was devoid of the cinema reference that pervades "Partner" (the Odessa steps parody, amongst others) and was toned down in "The Conformist" and "Last Tango In Paris." As an experiment, Partner is more of a success than a failure. It's not simple, casual viewing. It's a hard to digest film from a man who has absorbed and digested more about film than most others. It's comparable to Louis Malle's "Black Moon," but predates it by seven years. "Partner" is an oddity. It's unlikely to have a broad appeal, which is probably a good thing. This isn't going to sway the "Shrek" crowd, that's for sure. To an extent, you either get this film or you don't. The same can be said for dozens of films and filmmakers who are held in high regard by people who hold this film in contempt (it's tonally very close to Jodorowski's "Santa Sangre"). I for one am glad I've seen it. It's not perfect, but it's thought provoking, well made and less self indulgent than a lot of recent art-house fare from culty sacred cows ("Inland Empire," anyone?). Most people will find their way to this film as part of their Bertolucci completism. Some may be Tina Aumont obsessed. I don't think either will be greatly disappointed.
Bernardo Bertolucci, along with co-scenarist Gianni Amico, used Dostoievski's 1846, pre-imprisonment novella The Double: A Petersburg Poem, which they moved to Italy and updated to the pro-Vietcong student-protest present,
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February 20, 2021 at 11:37 AM