The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, August 5-11

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Last Tango in Paris (1972)
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Though the soundtrack of Stevan Riley’s new documentary Listen to Me Marlon is dominated by Marlon Brando’s home audio recordings of himself, Bertolucci does offer one illuminating moment in which he mentions how, after Brando saw the end result of their collaboration together on Last Tango in Paris, he felt “betrayed by [Bertolucci] because he had stolen so many sincere things.” It’s a tribute to how powerful Brando’s performance in Bertolucci’s film remains that it is still possible to understand why he would react that way. Not that Brando is the only noteworthy aspect of the film, by any means. Vittorio Storaro’s brown- and beige-toned cinematography and Gato Barbieri’s extravagantly rueful score combine to create an autumnal atmosphere of lush rot. And Thomas’s (Jean-Pierre Léaud) pretentious attempts at capturing truth in the documentary he’s making about his fiancée, Jeanne (Maria Schneider), are still as amusing as ever while offering intriguing thematic counterpoint to the three-day tryst between Jeanne and Paul (Brando). In the end, though, it is Brando’s brutally honest portrait of a broken and despairing man that stays in the memory most. With all his cynical musings about love and human nature delivered in a persuasively world-weary deadpan, it makes intuitive sense that the baby-faced and relatively inexperienced Jeanne would find Paul strangely alluring—and thus even more repulsive when, upon seeing him in the world outside that Paris flat, she sees him less as a wisdom-filled enigma than the washed-up flophouse-owner he really is. How Brando was able to summon up the inner emotional resources to clearly see this character in all his sad complexity is an artistic feat perhaps even the most formally innovative documentary can only begin to fathom. Kenji Fujishima (August 7, 9:45pm at Film Forum’s Brando series)

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