Neither Appellate Judge Dan Mancini or his evil twin cared much for this early effort by Bernardo Bertolucci.
"It still has to be established whether it's me who looks like you, or vice versa."—Giacobbe to Giacobbe
Bernardo Bertolucci's third feature, 1968's Partner, is an odd duck. It's as though in taking one step forward as an artist, he had to take two steps back.
Bertolucci inherited the directorial reigns of his debut feature La Commare Secca (1962) from his mentor Pier Poalo Pasolini when the ideas that would blossom into Mamma Roma caused Pasolini to lose interest in the project. The young Bertolucci was supposed to deliver a film in the style of Pasolini. That La Commare Secca has a visual style entirely unlike Pasolini's was the first sign that Bertolucci would be a unique and powerful voice in world cinema.
The young director more fully asserted his burgeoning powers in his second feature, 1964's Before the Revolution. The picture was clearly influenced by the French New Wave, but was sufficiently Bertolucci-esque to grab the attention of cineastés around the world.
In Partner, Bertolucci regresses into an almost pure imitation of Jean-Luc Godard. The movie is rife with the ironic emotional detachment, anti-narrative sensibilities, and self-reflexive examination of the conventions of cinema that characterize Godard's work. Bertolucci's naïveté shines through the Godardian veneer, however, in the lead character's earnest assertions of the theater's potential as a tool for political revolution. A Godard film actually made by Godard would be far more cynical about the power of theater or cinema to change anything. Partner, then, is less a Bertolucci film than Godard-lite. A fascinating peek at a young director stumbling toward greatness, it isn't particularly satisfying in and of itself.
Facts of the Case
Giacobbe (Pierre Clémenti, The Leopard) is a half-mad young drama teacher with a habit of talking to himself. He lives in a small apartment, stacked with books he's bought and stolen. Petrushka, his masochist landlord, pretends to be his servant. Giacobbe is in love with Clara (Stefania Sandrelli, Divorce Italian Style), the bourgeois daughter of his mentor. When the old professor publicly rejects him, he contemplates suicide but is saved by the appearance of his doppelgänger, Giacobbe.
This second, anarchic Giacobbe makes violent love to Clara and prods his tame double towards a revolutionary stance against the Vietnam War. The first Giacobbe, convinced theater is the only path to truth, incites his students to revolution with avant-garde performances that include the construction of Molotov cocktails.
Mayhem and even a little murder follow as the Giacobbes' psyche or psyches—like the film's narrative—unravel.
From the vantage point of the early 21st century, Partner might only be a curious cul-de-sac in the career of Bernardo Bertolucci if not for its fascinating intersection with 2003's The Dreamers. The events of the two films occur at the same moment in history: that tumultuous European spring of 1968 when French students rioted over the politically-motivated caning of Henri Langlois from the Cinémathèque Français, and students throughout Italy began protests that would radically alter the political landscape in Bertolucci's home country over the next decade. With their common setting, abundant homage to the French New Wave, and shared theme of duality (aren't The Dreamers' Isabelle and Theo, on some level, dual aspects of a single psyche?), one has to wonder if Bertolucci didn't design the 2003 film as an examination and update of Partner. Moreover, since Bertolucci was actually making Partner during that politically topsy-turvy year in which both it and The Dreamers are set, it's as if the two films, when viewed in tandem, offer up a third set of twins: the Bertoluccis, young and old.
In Partner, Bertolucci plays a kind of theme-and-variation with Fyodor Dostoevsky's novella, The Double, upon which the film is loosely based. Where Dostoevsky used the unruly doppelgänger of his hero, Golyadkin, to express disdain for the egocentrism of modern man, Bertolucci's double is a force for positive change. The second Giacobbe's anarchic rage is the spirit of the countercultural revolution, a spirit that seeks to destroy the existing social order. Even his frightening and inexplicable violence seems to be viewed by Bertolucci as the necessary means to a politically noble end. Near the end of the film, the original Giacobbe (to the extent that there's a distinction between the two at that point in the story) urges us all to unleash the feral twins of our outer, socially-compliant natures. It is the only hope of creating real political and social change. The cloistered, incestuous existence of the three protagonists in The Dreamers, their separation from the angry protests on the streets outside (though they identify politically with the protestors) might be read as an admission by the older Bertolucci that the call-to-arms from his younger, more idealistic self fell on too many deaf ears to produce lasting change.
While Partner's ample Godardian flourishes are derivative, they're also fun if you're game. It would be entirely disappointing to see a director as talented as Bertolucci imitate another filmmaker if not for the fact that his imitation is so spot-on. In keeping with the French convention and in defiance of Italian norms, Bertolucci shot with live sound. He counters the naturalism of the sound by abruptly dropping out the entire soundtrack at points, leaving us in silence—an old trick of Godard's meant to remind viewers they're watching a movie. Aggressive scene transitions undermine narrative coherence, and also prevent one from connecting with the characters emotionally. Despite all this, the young Bertolucci betrays his lack of absolute dedication to anti-narrative, anti-cinematic conceits by offering a comically engaging sequence early on in which Giacobbe boxes his own outsized shadow, and a plethora of expertly executed in-camera effects that allow Pierre Clémenti to appear onscreen with himself throughout the picture.
NoShame presents Partner in an anamorphic widescreen transfer framed at the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The image is clean and sharp, but marred a bit by an abundance of edge-enhancement halos. Colors are accurate and fully saturated. Black levels are solid without being overblown. Despite the minor flaws, it's a fine-looking transfer overall.
Audio is a mostly hiss-free two-channel presentation of the original Italian mono track. Optional English subtitles are available.
Supplements on Disc One of this two-disc Special Edition include two video interviews: Dreams from the Other Side and To Edit a Partner. The first is a 1968 look behind the scenes as Bertolucci filmed Partner. The director (looking like Godard's little brother behind a pair of sunglasses) talks about the cinematic concepts and political ideology behind the film, as well as addressing technical issues such as his choice to use live sound. The black-and-white 1.33:1 image is offered window-boxed inside a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen frame. Dreams from the Other Side runs 38 minutes. To Edit a Partner is a retrospective interview with Partner's editor Roberto Perpignani, produced by NoShame for this DVD release. Perpignani discusses the radical editorial style of the film, and how it meshes with Bertolucci's political and philosophical message. The interview runs 18 minutes.
In addition to the two interviews, the first disc contains Lost & Found, a nine-minute reel consisting of Pierre Clémenti's screen test, and some outtakes. A gallery of poster art and production stills runs as a 40-second featurette.
Instead of Partner-related supplemental material, Disc Two houses a second feature, critic Edoardo Bruno's single attempt at filmmaking, His Day of Glory. The film is loosely related to Partner in that Bertolucci was impressed enough with it to allow Bruno to front his movie with a few minutes of Giaccobe's revolutionary rantings. The footage from Partner fits well into His Day of Glory, which basically gives us a fly-on-the-wall perspective as three young revolutionaries discuss Marxism and the necessity of and moral justifications for the use of violence in overturning entrenched political systems. It's pretty dry stuff, shot with little flair (there were reasons, it seems, that Bruno ended up a critic rather than a director).
The picture is offered in a rough transfer, framed at its original 1.33:1 ratio. The unrestored image of this long-forgotten piece of political polemic is speckled with source damage. The audio track is similarly laced with hisses and pops. There's nothing much to complain about in terms of transfer-related flaws, though. NoShame did a great job with a weak source. There's not a lot of justification for sinking time and money into the restoration of a film as obscure and, to be blunt, void of artistic and technical quality as His Day of Glory.
The supplementary feature is accompanied by a 35-minute interview with Bruno, produced by NoShame for this DVD release. There is also a reel similar to the Lost & Found segment on Disc One that contains screen tests for Lou Castel and Laura Troschel, and footage of the actors rehearsing their parts.
The insert booklet contains two essays by Richard T. Jameson, former editor of Movietone News and Film Comment. The first discusses Italian cinema in the 1960s, and Bertolucci's role in the break from the Neorealism that characterized the nation's films of the '40s and '50s. The second provides some insightful analysis of Partner. Film critic Sean Axmaker also contributes an essay about Bertolucci, and there's a selected filmography. Finally, "It Was the End of the World as We Knew It, and We Felt Fine" is a brief essay by Edoardo Bruno in which he discusses His Day of Glory and its rescue from obscurity by NoShame.
Partner isn't a bad film per se, but it's a bad Bertolucci film. He can and has done so much better. This disc won't hold much appeal for anyone other than Bertolucci completists and budding Marxists revolutionaries, though the latter group would probably find listening to a little Rage Against the Machine a better use of their time.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: NoShame Films
• Dreams From the Other Side Interview with Bernardo Bertolucci
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