Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Last Tango in Paris (1972)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Last Tango in Paris (1972, Fr./It.) (aka Ultimo Tango a Parigi)

In director Bernardo Bertolucci's landmark and controversial erotic film - an arthouse film - it told about the development of a destructive relationship; it followed a distraught, confused, grieving widower and middle-aged American exile Paul who plunged into a sado-masochistic, sex-crazed, physical (yet impersonal and basically anonymous) relationship after his wife's suicide.

It was noteworthy as the first "mainstream" film to carry the dreaded "X" rating, due mostly to the fact that the film featured a major star who had sex throughout the entire movie; it contained raw (yet simulated) sexual scenes with primitive force - critics and audiences alike asked - was it erotic art or pornography? Brando and director Bertolucci were both nominated for Oscars in the highly-acclaimed and debated cinematic work.

In 1974, it became the first film to be prosecuted under Britain's Obscene Publications Act. The film was available in a censored R-rated version in 1981 (with modifications mostly to the anal-sex butter scene which was not entirely in the original script), and as an uncut X-rated (or NC-17) version. [When re-released in 1997, the MPAA re-rated the film as NC-17.]

  • middle-aged, overweight American expatriate and hotel owner Paul (Oscar-nominated Marlon Brando), an emotionally-crushed gutter-talking widower, met up with a stranger in an empty Left Bank apartment that was advertised for rent - young, big-breasted 20 year-old Parisienne ingenue Jeanne (Maria Schneider); she was a proper bourgeois female who was engaged to be married, but nonetheless acted in a carefree manner and accepted his prurient sexual demands; she was inspecting the apartment as a possible place to rent and live with her serious film-maker fiancee Thomas (Jean-Pierre Leaud) when she found Paul sitting in the dark next to the fireplace mantle: ("Who are you? You gave me a fright? How did you get in?")
  • their frequent, controversial, carnal and raw sexual scenes began at that point, and became increasingly more vile, empty and unromantic; he picked her up (clothed), carried her to an apartment window with closed venetian blinds, and forcefully made love to her standing up, without saying anything; afterwards, they both collapsed to the floor still embracing; she passively acquiesced to his demands
  • while arranging for his wife's funeral after she had recently committed suicide, Paul leased the apartment (under a fake name) and continued to meet the French girl in a series of puzzling encounters during afternoon sexual bouts twice a week; Paul insisted on having a sexual affair - conducted anonymously without names; his set of 'no questions asked' and 'no names' rules was notable for the time: ("I don't have a name....No, no, I don't, I don't want to know your name. You don't have a name and I don't have a name either. No names here. Not one name... I don't want to know anything about you. I don't wanna know where you live or where you come from. I wanna know nothing.... Nothing, nothing, do you understand?...You and I are gonna meet here without knowing anything that goes on outside here. OK?...Because, because we don't need names here. Don't you see? We're gonna forget everything that we knew. Every - all the people, all that we do, all that we, wherever we live. We're gonna forget that, everything, everything")
  • in another sequence when they were hugging each other naked and coupled together, she proposed that they concentrate - and "Maybe we can come without touching," but they were unsuccessful
  • then she suggested that they invent names for each other; he countered: ("Oh, God, I've been called by a million names all my life. I don't want a name. I'm better off with a grunt or a groan for a name. Do you wanna hear my name?"); after he made animal sounds, she complimented him: ("So masculine"), and then she made her own trilling noises: ("Listen to mine") - and he joked: "I didn't get the last name" and they continued speaking in grunting moans and sounds
  • although it wasn't really allowed, Paul revealed his past to Jeanne, including his "bad memories" and his unhappy childhood living in the country: ("My father was a, a drunk. Tough. Whore-f--ker, bar-fighter. Super-masculine. And he was tough. My mother was very, very poetic. And also a drunk. And one of my memories, when I was a kid, was of her being arrested nude. We lived in this small town. Farming community. We lived on a farm. And I'd come home after school and she'd be gone. In jail or something. And, uh, and I used to, I used to have to milk a cow every morning and every night and I liked that but I remember one time I was all dressed up to go out and take this girl to a basketball game. And I started to go out and my father said, 'You have to milk the cow.' And I asked him, I said, 'Would you please milk it for me?' And he said, 'No, get your ass out there.' So I went out and was in a hurry. Didn't have time to change my shoes. And I had cows--t all over my shoes. And on the way to the basketball game, it smelled in the car. And - I don't know. I-l can't remember very many good things..."); afterwards, he hinted that maybe he had fabricated everything he had shared
  • the development of their relationship became increasingly more vile, slavish, empty, humiliating, and unromantic; they reenacted the tale of "Little Red Riding Hood" by her comments about his various body parts: ("What strong arms you have! The better to squeeze a fart out of you! What long nails you have! The better to scratch your ass with. Oh, what a lot of fur you have! The better to let your crabs hide in. Ooh, what a long tongue you have! The better to, to stick in your rear, my dear")
  • Jeanne also admitted her first romantic love for her cousin - a young boy named Paul (not the adult) - when they separately masturbated under two different trees, and then described how she had her first orgasm running downhill when late for school; as she was talking, Paul seemed distracted and had his back turned away; she asked: "Why don't you listen to me?" and she rightly concluded that Paul was a depressing, arrogant and angry egotist: "You know, it seems to me I'm talking to the wall. Your solitude weighs on me, you know? It isn't indulgent or generous. You're an egoist! I can be by myself too, you know," and she masturbated by herself to spite him
  • Paul attempted to upset Rosa's grieving mother (Maria Michi) by explaining how Rosa didn't deserve absolution from a priest at her funeral after committing the mortal sin of suicide; he also explained how the flophouse-hotel - once owned by Rosa before Paul had arrived and married her five years earlier, had deteriorated and had become a semi-bordello for prostitutes and their clients, and a refuge for junkies and drug-dealers; Paul also introduced Rosa's mother to Marcel (Massimo Girotti) in the front lobby of the flophouse-hotel: "He was Rosa's lover"; Paul was revealing and expressing his angry, pay-back truth-telling after Rosa's sudden suicide
  • the film was notorious for its lengthy nude bathroom washing scene (and later a bathtub sequence); during their conversation in front of the bathroom mirror as he shaved, Jeanne began to realize that he was using her - during their promiscuous affair - to make up for his own meaningless life, and underlying repressed anger and vengeance after his wife's suicide; however, he momentarily cheered her up when he hoisted her up over his shoulder, twirled her around, and then kissed her with glowing words: "I think I'm happy with you." She beamed at him: "Encore! Do it again! Again!"; but then, he abruptly left the apartment by himself without saying goodbye to her
Bathroom Sequence
  • meanwhile, Jeanne had become exasperated by her fiancee Thomas' obsession with filming her for a documentary on her life: "Find another girl for your film....You take advantage of me. You make me do things I've never done. You're stealing my time. You make me do whatever you want. The film is over. I'm tired of having my mind raped!"
  • there was also the disturbing and explicit anal rape-sodomy scene on the floor using butter from a block as a lubricant during intercourse (with his earlier command: "Go get the butter"). His emphasis was on pure sex, basically anal - a reversal of conventional romantic love
The Infamous (Simulated) Sodomy Butter Scene: "Go get the butter"
  • during a wedding rehearsal with Thomas again filming her, Jeanne became exasperated with her fiancee and ran off; Jeanne returned to Paul in the apartment still wearing her wedding dress. She profusely apologized to Paul for running off: "Pardon me! Forgive me! I wanted to leave you. I could not. I wanted to leave you, and I couldn't. I can't. I can't leave you. Understand? Do you still want me?" In the ascending elevator with Paul, Jeanne raised her wedding dress, revealing that she was without underwear, and exhibiting a a full-frontal closeup shot of her pubic hair
Bathtub Washing Sequence
  • during a lengthy bathing scene, they both taunted each other about aging in their future, with Paul's comeback line: "You know, in 10 years, you're gonna be playing soccer with your tits. What do you think of that?" Paul reciprocated her earlier sodomization by letting Jeanne penetrate him anally with her fingers - it was part of his objective to "look death right in the face...go right up into the ass of death... till you find the womb of fear"
Paul's Distraught Grieving at the Bedside of Estranged Wife Rosa
  • in their dark bedroom in the flophouse hotel, Paul delivered an anguished, out-of-control confessional (mostly ad-libbed) monologue next to the body of his dead estranged wife Rosa surrounded by purple flowers, after she had recently committed suicide by slashing her wrists: ("...For five years, I was more a guest in this f--king flophouse than a husband. With privileges, of course....Our marriage was nothing more than a, a foxhole for you. And all it took for you to get out was a 35-cent razor and a tub full of water. You cheap, goddamn, f--king, god-forsaken whore. I hope you rot in hell. You're worse than the dirtiest street pig that anybody could ever find anywhere, and you know why? You know why? Because you lied. You lied to me and I trusted you. You lied. You knew you were lying! Go on, tell me you didn't lie. Haven't you got anything to say about that? You can think up something, can't you? Huh? Go on, tell me something! Go on, smile, you cunt! Go on, tell me, tell me something sweet. Smile at me and say it was - I just misunderstood. Go on, tell me. You pig-f--ker! You goddamn, f--king, pig-f--king liar"); and then he turned apologetic, while wiping the lipstick off her face: ("I'm sorry, I just can't, I can't stand it to see these goddamn things on your face. You never wore make-up. This f--king s--t. I'm gonna take this off your mouth. This lipstick, Rosa. Oh, God! I'm sorry. I don't know why you did it. I'd do it too, if I knew how. I just don't know how. God, I have to, I just have to find a way")
  • but then shortly later, Jeanne abandoned the apartment when she found Paul had left and emptied it, and she assumed that they were broken up; their previous secretive and mostly sexual affair was over, but then after he found her on the street, Paul insisted that a new relationship was beginning, although she wished to break it off completely, and didn't want to see him again. He wanted to resume everything, since he had fallen in love with her: "There's nothing to understand. We left the apartment, and now we begin and love all the rest of it"
  • he shattered the anonymous nature of their relationship by telling her some details of his brutalized life, things that he had withheld from her in the past: "Yeah, listen. I'm 45. I'm a widower. I've got a little hotel. It's kind of a dump, but it's not completely a flop house. Then, I used to live on my luck and I got married, and my wife killed herself." Their original relationship had lost its anonymity, which she thought had been preferable
  • the film transitioned into a tango bar-auditorium where the two became increasingly drunk together and made toasts: ("Let's have a toast to our life in the hotel...Let's drink a toast to our life in the country"), and he suggested that they dance; after disrupting the dance contest during the tango competition, Paul again mentioned to Jeanne that they could start their relationship anew, but she was ready to end things because she was going to get married: ("It's finished....We're never going to see each other again. Never!"); after manually masturbating him in a dark seating area, she ran out of the auditorium with him following close behind
  • the film ended with a shocking finale - he aggressively followed her and chased her through the streets and continued to pursue her into her mother's Parisian apartment, where he playfully donned her late father's Army cap (he had served as a colonel in French North Africa but was killed in action in 1958 in Algeria, and became a war hero); he then removed the cap and confessed his love for her while directly approaching and lunging toward her: ("And now I've found you. And I love you. I wanna know your name"), causing her to become horrified and fearful
  • suddenly a shot rang out as she answered him and spoke her name "Jeanne" - it was at that same moment that he was shot point-blank in the stomach with her father's Army revolver in her hand; Paul staggered onto the balcony where his last simple act was to remove his chewing gum from his mouth, and then he collapsed and died in a fetal position
  • the camera tracked backwards to reveal the skyline, and Jeanne standing there with a revolver in her right hand (her father's Army pistol from his military days). Dazed, Jeanne muttered the last lines of the film (a glazed, wide-eyed mantra) to herself (in French, translated below), rehearsing her lines that she would have to deliver to the police to explain his death (rationalizing and reassuring herself that it was self-defense when the stranger attempted to rape her):

    "I don't know who he is. He followed me on the street. He tried to rape me. He's a mad man. I don't know his name. I don't know who he is. He wanted to rape me. I don't know. I don't know him. I don't know who he is. He's a mad man. I don't know his name."

First Physical Encounter Between Paul and Jeanne in Apartment for Rent

Meeting Boyfriend Film-maker Thomas (Jean-Pierre Leaud) at Metro Station

Another Meeting: "No Names Here...I Wanna Know Nothing..."

"Maybe we can come without touching"

Paul's Revelation of "Bad Memories"

The Full-Frontal Scene in Ascending Elevator

Drunken Toasts to Each Other in a Tango Bar, And Jeanne Being Dragged onto Dance Floor

The Gunshot

After Being Shot

Paul's Death - Collapsing on Balcony in Fetal Position

Jeanne's Rehearsed Confession After Shooting Paul


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