Film of the week : The Conversation (1974)
Filmmaker : Francis Ford Coppola
Language : English
The Conversation is a dark brooding entree into the life of a private-operator surveillance expert, Harry Caul. A man of few companions, fewer words and even fewer emotions, he becomes suspicious of the people and objects around him upon hearing about a potential murder in his recordings. This leads him to a moral dilemma where he needs to choose between the ethics of his profession and the ethics of his faith, Catholicism.
“Does it bother you?”
“Walking around in circles.”
The film opens with a bird-eye view of the Union Square in San Francisco with people moving around like mini-figurines on a tableaux. You immediately sense the incongruity between the image and the sound; the image is an assortment of people — individuals, couples, families, street-performers — but the sound is glitchy, sensitive, motile and pointedly one-dimensional – a man and a woman are conversing and they are being recorded. They move around the place in circles and talk in soft, whispery voices; they are cautious about being taped. This conversation becomes the subject of Harry Caul’s life, and to understand the implications of it while keeping the tape away from his client becomes his sole pursuit in life, which drives him to a state of extreme isolation and paranoia.
The Conversation is Coppola’s less-known and oft-forgotten masterpiece. Coppola was simultaneously working on The Godfather Part II during the shooting of this film. Both of them came out in 1974 to huge acclaim, competing with each other for top prizes in the cinema world – The Conversation won the Palme d’Or and The Godfather Part II won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Filmmakers drudge through their entire lives trying to make that one masterpiece that would stand the test of time and here was Francis Ford Coppola, who made not one, not two, but three of those in the span of three years (including The Godfather that came out in 1972).