Bertolini's The Conformist opens in a hotel bedroom with a man speaking cryptically on the phone. The camera, from a knee-high angle, swings around the room, first to his luggage (where is he from?), and then to a valise from which he retrieves a small handgun. After he pockets the gun, the camera rises to eye level and we see what was obscured before: a naked body sleeping face down in the bed. Is it male or female? This ambiguity returns later when Bertolini links the man's fascism to a crisis of sexual identity.

If you get a chance to see the film, look for one of the philosopher's friends who is the spitting image of Walter Benjamin. The scene is set in Paris, 1938 -- the same year that Benjamin published "Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire."

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