Partner Up

The final day — officially, anyhow — the Day of the Dead — of PROJECT FEAR. we have survived the efforts of our crazed cult leader to crash us out of the EU, like the Rasputin guy piloting the Siberian Express off a cliff in Sergio Martino’s HORROR EXPRESS. Instead, we’re lingering on a siding, waiting for the zombie cossacks to dismember our institutions. I did what I could.

First up, Tim Concannon turns his steely gaze — a braver man than I! — upon Val Guest’s AU PAIR GIRLS. Is this British soft-porn “romp” a European horror film? Tim argues YES. Go check it out.

(Also, you should hear his podcast. Amazingness! And a big influence on a certain other podcast.)

My friend Martin Allison wanted to contribute something but couldn’t decide what, so I sent him two random films. One was Bertolucci’s PARTNER, which I still haven’t watched but I knew that (a) it uses the Doppelganger theme, hence the uncanny is present and (b) Pierre Clémenti at one point does a Max Schreck impression. That was enough for me.

Martin’s “rant” as he called it is very interesting to me because his objections to the film are exactly those of Bertolucci himself, who felt he was too much under the Godardian influence and needed to break free from it, which was why he gave the Paris-based professor in THE CONFORMIST Godard’s phone number and then murdered the guy.

Here’s Martin:

On my first viewing I didn’t even realise this film was directed by Bertolucci, this in many ways sums up what you need to know.

To paraphrase Mr. Burns, at first glance this film feels like it was made by a bargain-basement-Godard.

The clear lifting of Godard’s visuals is very confusing. Considering how Godard’s films are so detached from emotion, character and plot – and therefore solely rely on images to relay arch themes in an obtuse way – copying this style without having a clear purpose is absurd.

Godard’s images are an attempt at embodying the platonic ideal, the image of something physical stands in for something metaphysical; an idea.

In a very strenuous and lazy summary; to Plato a bed was a representation of an idea, rather than a physical structure, therefore a painting of a bed was a representation of a representation.

What we have with Partner is an imitation of a representation of a representation.

Having a quick glance at the surprisingly high IMDB rating, it looks like any positive reviews have confused the merits of Bernardo Bertolucci with the merits of this film. The conceit shines through in any review above 5/10 saying something along the lines of “As an experiment, Partner is more of a success than a failure.” – the problem being it’s a film, not an experiment and must be judged accordingly.

The narrative (little that there is) concerns a guy who encounters a double of himself and then they have some obtuse and ponderous interactions where one stands at one end of the screen and the other stands at the other.

The film comes in a strange place in Bertolucci’s filmography – between thematically (and in many ways stylistically) similar Before the Revolution and The Conformist, which both deal with the idea of a character being seduced by an ideology, fascism to be specific.

We go from disconnected scene to scene, none of which actually slot together meaningfully.

It is curious as Bertolucci’s films before and after this one successfully work with meandering plots and non-chronological scene progression. Of course, with both of those films, there is a clear purpose to why they are structured as such – revealing information to the audience in a meaningful way, forming an arc to the films as a whole. Which can only strengthen my assumption that Godard was being ripped off, but without understanding
why his films were made that way.

A handful of his new wave films have fairly disconnected scenes, but manage to come together to form a whole (Vivre Sa Vie), whereas in Partner it feels like a lazy structural device, without any justification.

Two bizarre scenes I think worth mentioning are one in which our main character uses an artificial cobweb gun at this acting forum he appears at (there is a cool shot of cobwebs over small trees, fitting for this time of year).

And a scene in which a 60s campy euro-pop track with the word ‘Splash’ repeated over and over plays over the main character and a woman who took her bra off for some reason earlier in the film dancing around a washing machine and half-undressing, rolling around in the bubbles from the wash – before the protagonist strangles her. The problem here being I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be satire or sincere, either way it’s poorly realised, self-indulgent, confusing and embarrassing.

What bothers me about any positive reviews for the film on IMDB is that they have nothing to do with the film, as it simply isn’t very good and doesn’t work. Just because a good director was involved, it feels like there is an extra level of projection and open-mindedness granted to the film, an un-deservingly huge benefit of the doubt can be the only explanation for these ratings.

The film is loosely based on The Double by Dostoyevsky – but you wouldn’t know it.

There is an examination of the duality of man going on thematically, but it’s so on the nose I’m angered it’s been overlooked by all these apologists on IMDB, as it’s by no means subtle.

When did ‘experimental’ become a convenient way to excuse something that is bad, which just happens to have a more academic fan base?

Visually the film does have some interesting frames to offer up, as well as bright primary colour palettes similar to those found in Godard films.

A couple of scenes display enjoyable ideas – a parody of the Odessa steps from Potemkin and a scene where large piles of books move around (little carts underneath) spookily as our protagonist sits in place afraid.

I found a concise summary of this film on IMDB, as I doubt I can write one so well, read it for yourself.

From user ‘Darth-Chico’;
“Exuberance carries this film half way, after that it degenerates into an exercise in employing old art film clichés. Though he bases his movie on the Dostoyevsky story ‘The Double‘, Bertolucci apparently has no message, and no original way to present it. By the end this movie has dragged you through a tedium of stupidity and indulgence. This is the kind of
film that gives art movies a bad name. 4/10 “

10 Responses to “Partner Up”

  1. Tony Williams Says:

    Re: your opening comments, how coincidental! They ran HORROR EXPRESS last weekend at the local cultural centre (note UK spelling!). Though I have it on DVD I just had to see it again from a wide screen DVD blow-up perspective that began with Spanish credits, then thankfully went into the dubbed version I know. However, Cushing’s remark, “We’re not monsters. we’re British” should be revised in the light of Boris, Nigel, and Jacob!

  2. Any film that has a parody of the Odessa Steps sequence has shot itself in the (metaphorical) foot.
    “I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be satire or sincere…” but if it’s satire, what’s it satire of? If it’s sincere what is it sincerely?

  3. I think the parody aspect is sometimes its own justification: in Woody Allen’s Bananas and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, the pastiche pram (a floor-buffer in the Gilliam) is just a handy, throwaway reference to something some of the audience is presumed to be familiar with.

    Bertolucci always had this weakness for throwing in hommages, like the L’Atalante lifebelt in Last Tango, which don’t mean anything at all except that he likes the thing he’s nodding at.

  4. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Everybody talks about Godard re “Partner” but nobody mentions Jerry Lewis. “Partner” is a radical remake of “The Nutty Professor” with a homage ot “Cinderfella” added in the scene o the giant stairway. Bertolucci, who is as much a French filmmaker as he is an Italian one, was in Rome during May ’68 — a situation he deeply regretted. “Partner” was an attempt to get in touch with “The Revolution”

  5. ehrenstein47 Says:

    In “The Dreamers” Bertolucci “re-lives” a May ’68 he never experienced and at the same time tries to come to grips with his bisexuality.

  6. And The Dreamers is the OTHER Bertolucci film i inexplicably haven’t watched…

  7. ehrenstein47 Says:

    It’s a very mixed bag. It was adapted from Gilbert Adair’s novel “the Holy Innocents.” Gilbert adapted the screenplay with Bertolucci. But in his last years Gilbert had a “change of heart” about himself — to put it politely. While in the novel the American hero makes love to both the brother and sister in the film it’s just the sister. Gilbert had decided he w. A lamentable development as it as really straight and thus closeted himself and his characters. Hence there’s no love scene between Louis Garrel and Michael Pitt. A shame as Louis is always up for same-sex snogging

  8. David E is a big fan of the book and was extremely disappointed by the film. He’s less forgiving of BB’s unde=oubted vices, though.

  9. chris schneider Says:

    I saw PARTNER in the theater, aeons ago, and remember little outside of the “eyes” painted on Tina Aumont’s eyelids, and a scene ending with the two Pierre Clementis crossing the divide mid-shot and revealing the artifice of it all.

    That “Odessa Steps” parody sounds familiar, though. Quite a tradition of parodying Eisenstein! One that reaches back to the shattered glasses during Jayne Mansfield’s GIRL CAN’T HELP IT walk.

  10. It had never occurred to me that Tashlin was spoofing Sergei, but it’s possible!

    DePalma does it in his student film, Woton’s Wake, with the lion statues waking up. Start as you mean to go on!

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