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Kline, T.J. (1997). Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty. Psychoanal. Rev., 84(1):149-152.

(1997). Psychoanalytic Review, 84(1):149-152

Film Notes

Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty

T. Jefferson Kline, Ph.D.

The double has always lurked at the heart of Bertolucci's cinematic enterprise, sometimes explicitly as in his early Partner (1968), in the Paul-Tom configuration in Last Tango in Paris, or in the Alfredo-Olmo brotherhood of 1900, at other times implicitly, as in the Jesse-Siddhartha twinning of Little Buddha. With Stealing Beauty comes a film in which doubles are more clearly configured with characters outside rather than within the cinematic space.

When I viewed the film at the American premiere in New York, the Italian Office of Tourism was cravenly attempting to bill the film as a plug for vacations in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. But the film is hardly that; especially since Mr. Bertolucci parted ways with Vittorio Storraro for this venture, and the Tuscan hills are never quite captured so much as they are grazed by a somewhat distracted camera. It is as though Mr. Bertolucci wanted to force our eyes back from the Italian landscape to a more intimate view of a disparate and desperate collection of exiles grouped around the figures of Ian Grayson (Donal McCann), a middle-aged sculptor, and Diana (Sinead Cusack), his fragilely beautiful wife. Their Tuscan villa has attracted such unlikely companions as the aging and apparently senile M. Guillaume, played by Jean Mantis, a ghostly reminder of his former roles in Cocteau's Orpheus and Beauty and the Beast; a wasted but still powerfully emotional Alex Parrish (Jeremy Irons), his lungs expectorating, his heart still expectant; and the fiercely sexual and intellectually vapid D. W. Moffat (Richard Reed) trying to convince us that this is “Last Tango in Paradise.” It is as though Bertolucci and Susan Minot, author of the screen play, had transposed Chekhov's Cherry Orchard into “The Olive Grove” where everyone seems to suffer from an incurable case of fin de siecle ennui, sadness and failure to communicate real feelings.

But a cure appears, almost as a dea ex machina, in the unlikely persona of a true romantic, an innocent, nay the idealization of all innocence, Lucy (Liv Tyler), an American virgin, in search, like the young poet Bernardo thirty years before her, of mystery.

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