Bernardo Bertolucci’s Ultimo tango a Parigi (1972) is a love story about people. Not about their lives, but about the people there, now, living, not as they have lived. Names do not matter, rather it is spaces, bodies, noises, smells. It is these transient, untangible things which bring people together, keep them together (in love?) in Bertolucci’s imagined Paris. Jeanne (Maria Schneider) breaks it off with her conventional partner (Jean-Pierre Léaud) because, she says, he makes her do things she has never done. So does Marlon Brando, in fact, but the reason she returns to him is because they, when together, are out of sight. She is not fulfilling a sexual or romantic scenario for the camera, for a record of a ‘love story’. It is just for herself. In this case, love is not about performing.
But in a final scene in a Parisian ballroom, love becomes something of a performance for Marlon. He is no longer the man who said, ‘Well, if you look real close you’ll find me hiding behind my zipper.’ But the performance of the tango does not involve real emotion, claims the lady in control. For the couple, though, they appear in love on the dance floor, and it is in the darkened, empty tables, that it disappears. What is Bertolucci doing, then?? Showing the unsustainability of living in the present, without peripheral lives, with only bodies? Can no one survive with only themselves?