1974 was the year Francis Ford Coppola premiere The Godfather II, one of the few cases in which the sequel equals (if not exceeds) the original. But Coppola had time in that year to release another film that was no less fascinating but for very different reasons: The conversation. Both The Godfather II and The Conversation were nominated for the Oscars for Best Screenplay and Best Picture. Quite an achievement of a genius of cinema that was in full swing.
The conversation It was a cheap and apparently simple film whose script Coppola came up with in 1969. So, the conversation was not inspired by the Watergate case that had exploded in 1973 and ended up causing the fall of President Nixon, but it did benefit from the scandal of you listen to them. The United States was in a state of paranoia never seen before. With new technologies, any conversation could be recorded and used against him. Orwell’s big brother finally came true. What’s more, all public and private life could be called into question, as demonstrated by Senator McCarthy’s witch hunt in the 1950s, in which many Hollywood professionals were vetoed on charges of being communists. An accusatory testimony or a recording were enough to end the career of the most respected professional.
The conversation has an obvious parallel with Blow up (a pretentious and boring film like few others) of no less pompous and boring Michelangelo Antonioni. Yes in Blow up A photographer believes they accidentally find proof of a murder in a photo and obsesses with this image making innumerable extensions. In The Conversation, the protagonist becomes obsessed with a conversation. Incidentally, The conversation seems to me far superior (and much less boring) than Blow up.
The greatGene Hackman He played the master of Harry Caul, a sound technician who secretly records custom-made conversations. Harry is a great professional who has never bothered about how his clients use his recordings. Harry is a lonely guy, suspicious and obsessed with his privacy, in fact he does not give anyone his phone number. Harry knows that any conversation can be recorded and has turned his apartment into a virtual bunker. He leads a solitary life surrounded by jazz records and his only way to combat loneliness seems to be playing the sax in his apartment. As if that were not enough, Harry carries a strong feeling of guilt that perhaps is increased by his Catholicism (he asks a companion not to use the name of God in vain and makes use of the sacrament of confession). As we see, once again religion plays an important role in a Coppola film.
One day Harry overhears an apparently banal conversation from a couple that could be interpreted as an indication of an attempted murder. But everything is very ambiguous. There is no certainty. But Harry parks his selfishness and decides to take sides with what he thinks he hears on the tape. You have faith in what you think you heard and even more importantly, seems to still have some faith in the human being. For the first time he cares about someone other than himself and about the consequences of what he has recorded. Harry puts aside his professionalism and becomes emotionally involved, obsessing over the tape as he begins to believe that he is also being listened to. An innocent recording of a colleague with a pen triggers a storm in Harry, going from hunter to hunted. That meddling in your privacy seems intolerable even though he does it. His whole world falls apart at the thought that his apartment is no longer a safe place. Harry could be interpreted as the average American who discovers that everything he believed in was false: from his government or the sense of security. After the hippie explosion of the 60s, the 70s were a hard blow to reality. Perhaps no one has shaped this change as crudely as Coppola.
The protagonist’s sick obsession It goes beyond the screen and is irretrievably spread to the viewer. Coppola makes a big impact in the scenes of a solitaire Gene Hackman literally tearing apart his apartment in search of a microphone he never finds. The growing frustration of the character for not finding what he is looking for produces in the viewer a terrible uneasiness.
Coppola wisely introduces at the end of the film not a few ironies (Harry is Catholic but destroys an image of the Virgin, he is a good professional but he cannot find the microphone in his apartment, the people he wanted to save are not what he thought) all this produces great frustration in the character. Harry must accept his unfortunate fate, a constant in Coppola’s cinema.
The conversation has a slow pace that does not get to be boring but may be about to do so for many viewers. As he did with The Godfather II, Coppola takes his time and recreates the details. This is not Transformers, folks. This story is full of nuances and meanings scattered throughout the plot by Coppola’s master hand and well worth the time spent on it.
Yes Gene Hackman It is fantastic, the same can be said of the rest of the cast. So much John Cazale how Robert Duvall they are perfect here as in The Godfather II. Also noteworthy is the appearance of a certain Harrison Ford.
A reflection to finish. I first saw the conversation in Saturday Cinema A million years ago. Damn, there was a time when good movies were broadcast on television. There was even a time when Coppola made good movies.