Bernardo Bertolucci is an expressionist filmmaker in the sense that the style of his films transgresses the realities of everyday life and the traditional cinematic way of depicting it. He achieves this through many techniques such as original camera shots or compositions that only we, behind the camera, could see. Bertolucci also paints his films in a light that creates a surrealist or "metarealist" mood and aura.
The Conformist is shot with camera angles that evoke an avant-guarde style of cinematography. Towards the end of one scene when the chauffeur arrives, the camera is set very low to the ground, and as people begin to depart from the scene, the leaves on the ground blow away from the camera into the air. However, the leaves do not move in a random and natural way, rather they continuously blow outwards and upwards in a stylized manner. It is through the angle that Bertolucci's cinematographer shoots the footage, that this avant-garde interpretation of nature, is shown in such an unnatural and surrealist manner.
When Marcello believes that he is being followed by a car, the camera is pacing with the car but is tilted at a forty-five degree angle. The camera is focused on the car's front grill and mimics the shape of the grill which is a "V" form. Highlighting this pointed area of the car, it creates a sense of uneasiness because we cannot see the driver and since it is a perspective that we do not normally have of an automobile, our senses are prepared for the unexpected to happen. Then the camera rederesses its position achieving a normal shot of the gate and the car, a return to our normal perspective: the sense of danger has passed.
Bertolucci paints the film with light in the sense that the quality of light is integral to the overall reading of the film. When the film begins, two men are in a car and bathed with a blue light that is evokes twilight or dawn, but the hue is unique enough that it creates a moody and "film noir" look. We can tell that the two men are involved in actions that are questionable through the mysterious light that envelopes them. The same eerie dark blue light appears in many locations of the film, particularly around the train station. This certain quality of light sets the stage for later events. We as viewers, subconsciously or consciously, through the character of light, know that the ending of the film will be dramatic. Ironically, the light during the last scene in the woods is shot in a natural tone that would appear there. It is slightly gray, but definitely not as gelled as in the earlier scenes.
This quality of light that exists throughout the film enhances the colors of incandescent lighting whether on streets or from building windows. As a result, the style of lighting has a murky quality to it that creates a painterly effect. In reality we do not normally see a streetscape "painted" in this manner.
A different type of light, a gray golden light, existed...