SHOW BUSINESS 1973: Portrait of a Sensualist: LAST TANGO IN PARIS

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Portrait of a Sensualist

The man is middleaged, leonine, ravaged. The girl is young, foxlike, insouciant. Total strangers to each other, they are inspecting an unfurnished Paris apartment that is for rent. Suddenly, the man scoops the girl up in his arms, carries her to the side of the room, then embraces and kisses her hungrily. He tears off her panties and has sex with her while still dressed and standing.

Any moviegoers who are not shocked, titillated, disgusted, fascinated, delighted or angered by this early scene in Bernardo Bertolucci's new movie, Last Tango in Paris, should be patient. There is more to come. Much more. Bertolucci has marshaled his opulent visual style to tell a stark story of sex as a be-all and end-all. For boldness and brutality, the intimate scenes are unprecedented in feature films. Frontal nudity, four-letter words, masturbation, even sodomy—Bertolucci dwells uncompromisingly on them all.

The movie, which will open in New York City on Feb. 1, is already a sensation and a scandal in Europe. It has been called a work of "constant beauty"; a piece of "talented debauchery that often makes you want to vomit" as well as an "authentic moral and psychological Apocalypse." It will affirm the resurgence of one of the great talents of the age, one who had seemed, through the 1960s, to be erratically and sometimes disastrously in decline: Marlon Brando. Brando is already being touted as an Academy Award contender for his role in last year's The Godfather. Now his emotionally wrenching, coruscating performance as the protagonist of Tango fulfills all the promise he gave in the earlier film of regaining his old dominance, not only as an actor but also as a star and a legend.