Distraught following his wife’s suicide, American hotelier Paul (Marlon Brando) becomes transfixed by the beautiful younger Frenchwoman Jeanne (Maria Schneider) when he meets her by chance at an apartment both are attempting to rent. The couple begin an extended but purely anonymous sexual relationship in which they do not even tell each other their names, but it soon becomes clear that the couple's deliberate level of disassociation cannot continue. In her legendary New Yorker rave about the film, Pauline Kael writes: “Bernardo Bertolucci’s ‘Last Tango in Paris’ was presented for the first time on the closing night of the New York Film Festival, October 14, 1972: that date should become a landmark in movie history comparable to May 29, 1913 — the night ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’ was first performed — in music history. There was no riot, and no one threw anything at the screen, but I think it’s fair to say that the audience was in a state of shock, because ‘Last Tango in Paris’ has the same kind of hypnotic excitement as the ‘Sacre,’ the same primitive force, and the same thrusting, jabbing eroticism.”
Intro and discussion by Eileen G’Sell, film critic for The Riverfront Times; contributor to Hyperallergic, Salon, and Vice; and senior lecturer in the College Writing Program at Washington University.