Bernardo Bertolucci is an Italian director best known for his controversial Last Tango in Paris and the academy award winning The Last Emperor. Bernardo Bertolucci is one of the pre-eminent international directors of the latter half of the twentieth century.
Bertolucci began to gain attention in North America in 1970 when he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay for The Conformist in 1970. But it was Last Tango in Paris that created an uproar for its explicit scenes involving a middle-aged man (played by Marlon Brando) who has anonymous sex with a young woman (Maria Schneider). Bertolucci received Best Director nominations from the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes and the Directors Guild of America, The film was banned in his homeland and Bertolucci not only received a four-month suspended sentence, but had his civil rights revoked for five years.
Bernardo Bertolucci was born on March 16, 1940 in Parma, Italy. His mother, Ninetta, was a teacher and his father, Attilio Bertolucci, was a poet, a reputed art historian, anthologist and film critic. Throughout his childhood, Bernardo Bertolucci was surrounded by literature and movies. Bertolucci's younger brother Giuseppe became a film director and playwright. He also has a cousin, Giovanni Bertolucci , with whom he has worked on several films with. Growing up Bernado Bertolucci wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and become a poet. By the time he was 12, Bernardo was already a published poet. He was awarded the prestigious Viareggio Literary Prize or his first book of verse, In Cerca del Mistero when he was just twenty years old Bernardo Bertolucci attended the Faculty of Modern Literature of the University of Rome from 1958 to 1961
While still at the University, Bertolucci was offered a job as an assistant director on Pier Paolo Pasolini's film "Accattone". Pasolini, a friend of Bertolucci's father, knew the family well and had been indebted to Attilio Bertoluccia when he helped to publish his first novel. Bernardo Bertolucci's enjoyed the experience and his interest in film grew. He left the university before graduation to direct "La commare secca" and "Prima della rivoluzione".
For a the next few years Bertolucci was not able to raise funds for another feature length film, and directed a number of documentaries. he also assisted Director Julian Beck with some of his productions. His next film, The Spider's Strategem (La Strategia del Ragno), was a thriller about a young man's attempt to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding his long-deceased anti-fascist father.Regarded as an improvement over his first two feature films,The Spider's Stratagem began to show the Director's talents. However it was not until the release of The Conformist (Il Conformista) in 1970 that Bertolucci's talents became well known.
Considered by many critics as his greatest work,
The Conformist deploys, lighting, decor, costume
and music to shape a stylized backdrop of Fascist Italy
against which the hero attempts to resolve his own
sexual and political conflicts. The classic sequence in
which the two central women characters perform a tango
is a Bertolucci signature, where he uses the dance as
metaphor. The dance also appears at the center of his
controversial Last Tango in Paris.
Bertolucci became infamous in 1972, with the controversial film Last Tango in Paris, with Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider. During a graphic scene, Brando's character Paul anally rapes Maria Schneider's character Jeane, using butter as a lubricant. Though some choose to view the act as 'anal sex', it is clear the scene depicts a rape by definition because Jeane was screaming, crying hysterically, fighting him off and yelling the clear-cut 'no.' Many also took issue with the fact that Schneider was completely naked much of the film, while Brando was fully clothed. Bertolucci answered this by saying he too much identified with Brando's character to humiliate him in such a way.
The ethical dilemma, and controversy, did not stop at the level of pure representation. During filming, the 20-year-old Maria Schneider was not aware of the scene and in fact, was only told her character was to be raped moments before the scene was filmed. This, and the ultimate portrayal of her character, caused her great emotional trauma, and to her death on February 3rd, 2011, she still had not forgiven Bertolucci for what she considered an emotional rape of her being and identity. During the actual scene, she has also said she was crying real tears as she felt humiliated and violated by both Brando and Bertolucci. As a direct result, she became a woman's rights advocate, especially fighting for more female film directors, more respect for female actors, and better representation of females in film and media.
Brando too was upset with the director and did not speak to Bertolucci for many years as a result of the trauma of being involved with the film. He has publically said what he ultimately saw on screen horrified and traumatized him, and he felt manipulated and emotionally raped by the director. He felt it was a violation of his craft, specifically his use of the method acting technique, for Bertolucci to cause him to inhabit such a vile character.
During the making of Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci toyed with the idea of adapting Dashiell Hammett's book Red Harvest into a feature film. Several movies had already used the basis of the story for other movies, including Kurasawa's Yojimbo, and later Sergio Leone's Fistful of Dollars, . Bertolucci wrote two screenplays, the first draft was written almost entirely as a political film, from which emerged a story inspired by socialist syndicalism of the late '20s in America. The second draft was more faithful to Hammett's original story and changed the setting to 1934. Actors considered for the role The Continental Op were Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson. In Rome, Bertolucci and Warren Beatty talked in great detail about the film, and in 1982 Bertolucci left Europe for Los Angeles where he was to shoot Red Harvest, but five years went by and the film was never made.
In 1987, Bernardo Bertolucci directed "The Last Emperor". It was the first western film created with the cooperation of the Chinese government since 1949. The movie was filmed in the Forbidden City in Beijing, and portrayed the life of the last Emperor of China as he changed from Emperor to Citizen, an analogy for the changes in Chinese culture over the last hundred years. The film was widely acclaimed at the Oscar awards, winning "Best Picture", "Best Cinematography", "Best Director", "Best Costume Design", "Best Film Editing", "Best Original Score", "Best Writing", "Best Sound", and "Best Art Direction
After The Last Emperor, the director went back to Italy to film, as well as to his old themes with varying results from both critics and the public. He filmed Stealing Beauty in 1996, then The Dreamers in 2003, which describes the political passions and sexual revolutions of two siblings in Paris in 1968. In 2012 Bertolucci ireleased Me and You, the story of an introverted teenager who tells his parents he is going on a ski trip, but instead spends his time alone in a basement.