Vast, empty rooms mirror the insular life of Paul (Marlon Brando), a middle-aged American hotel owner mourning his wife’s recent suicide. Paul shuts out the world beyond the doors of his unfurnished apartment and attempts to smother the emptiness that engulfs him—a desperate blankness that is brilliantly evoked by Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography—by taking up an anonymous sexual relationship with Jeanne (Maria Schneider), a young, hapless Parisienne. Their brutal sexual encounters seem meaningless at first, but Paul’s emotional need and desperation soon rise to the surface. The score by Argentine saxophonist Gato Barbieri punctuates starkly erotic scenes that have lost none of their effect since the film’s controversial debut 40 years ago.
"It's about a human relationship between a man and woman in the present. I think it's the most political film I've ever done, but the characters never speak about politics. I realized . . . that the couple in my film are not isolated from the world as I had planned for them to be. You cannot escape to an island; even your attempt to do so is part of our social reality. It turns out that my characters are profoundly symptomatic. You can't hide in a room; reality will come in through the window. Every relationship is condemned to change, anyway. Perhaps it can improve, but generally it deteriorates. It cannot remain just itself. Thus there is always a sense of loss. It is this sense of loss that makes me use the word 'condemned' rather than saying 'destined.' "
Click here to read film critic Pauline Kael's review of the film.