In PARTNER, Bernardo Bertolucci conflated his interests in psychoanalysis, nonlinear narrative, and Godard to create a uniquely avant-garde work unlike anything in his ouevre. The film is loosely based on Dostoyevsky’s novel THE DOUBLE and concerns an alienated, puckish young man named Jacob (Pierre Clementi) who confronts his own double. Jacob allows his doppelganger to take over his life; the second Jacob commandeers his predecessor’s theater class in the hopes of creating living theater–as a violent act of social revolution. The idea of students wreaking havoc was not an unfamiliar one in 1968, and Bertolucci refuses to take Jacob’s dangerous intellectual posturing lightly. The second Jacob is a handsome killer, the first a handsome weakling who must find the courage to resist his baser self. Bertolucci matches inspired plot points with arresting images, including visual film references and the bright color schemes that would later become his trademark.
Jacob is a theater instructor committed to the theories of Antonin Artaud, but he simply doesn’t have the temperament to realize the “Theater of Cruelty” in life. When he meets his double (Pierre Clementi, in a dual role), the amoral embodiment of his intellectual principles, he allows the second Jacob to take over his existence–with sinister consequences. Bernardo Bertolucci’s exploration of selfhood’s many faces is itself both earnest and playful, dark and bizarre.