Design II

film 2 of 3

The Last Emperor

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 26, 2015

Visual perfection, and in several different registers. Bernardo Bertolucci and Vittorio Storaro and Ferdinando Scarfiotti (direction, camera, design) outdo themselves, which given the various heights they’ve accomplished, in tandem and separately, is really saying something. There’s something of the historical pageant going on here, what with everyone play acting in the actual places where it all actually happened. That makes The Last Emperor as something of a national passion play too, though the sponsorship of these Italians might make it a problematical one. It’s almost certainly an intentional problematic, as suggested by all the Brechtian bits, all the Alienations here and the Details there. Brecht, but not of the firebrand variety; if The Last Emperor has left sympathies, then it also knows all about the purges and the Cultural Revolution and all. In that sense it resembles the 5th Generation Chinese films that were coming out, contemporaneously. This is an essential, classically theorized part of the Revolution. How to keep your head down—in the final account even the Emperor is ultimately just a little guy. The catastrophe of success! Also, just as much, the long-suffering and nobility of these people!