Bernardo Bertolucci

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Bernardo Bertolucci

Bernardo Bertolucci, film director.jpg
Bertolucci, c.1971
Born(1941-03-16)16 March 1941
Parma, Italy
Died26 November 2018(2018-11-26) (aged 77)
Rome, Italy
  • Film director
  • screenwriter
Years active1962–2018
  • (divorced)
  • (m. 1979)
Awards(see § Awards)

Bernardo Bertolucci OMRI (Italian:  [berˈnardo bertoˈluttʃi] ; 16 March 1941 – 26 November 2018) was an Italian film director and screenwriter with a career that spanned 50 years. Considered one of the greatest directors in Italian cinema, [2] [3] Bertolucci's work achieved international acclaim. He was the first Italian filmmaker to win the Academy Award for Best Director [lower-alpha 1] for The Last Emperor (1987), one of many accolades including a BAFTA Award, a César Award, and two Golden Globes. He also received a Golden Lion in 2007, and a Honorary Palme d'Or in 2011. [4]


A protégé of Pier Paolo Pasolini, [5] Bertolucci made his directorial debut at 22. His second film, Before the Revolution (1964), earned strong international reviews and has since gained classic status, being called a "masterpiece of Italian cinema" by Film4. His 1970 film The Conformist , an adaptation of the Alberto Moravia novel, is considered a classic of international cinema, [6] and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and the prestigious Berlin Golden Bear. His 1972 erotic drama Last Tango in Paris was controversial due to its sex scenes, in addition to an unscripted rape scene, which actress Maria Schneider did not consent to. [7] Bertolucci's films such as the historical epic 1900 (1976), the family drama La Luna (1979), and the darkly comedic Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man (1981), were also controversial but acclaimed.

His 1987 film The Last Emperor, a biopic of Chinese monarch Puyi, was a critical and commercial success, earning rave reviews and sweeping the 60th Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director). He followed its success with two more films in his "Oriental Trilogy" [8] The Sheltering Sky, an adaptation of the novel of the same name, and Little Buddha , a Buddhist religious epic. His 1996 film, Stealing Beauty , brought him his second of two Palme d'Or nominations. He continued directing well into the 21st century, releasing his final film, Me and You , in 2012.

Bertolucci's films often deal with themes of politics, sexuality, history, class conflict, and social taboos; [9] [10] and his style has influenced several filmmakers. [6] [2] Several of his films have appeared on lists of the greatest films of all time.

Early life

Bertolucci was born in the Italian city of Parma, in the region of Emilia-Romagna. He was the elder son of Ninetta (Giovanardi), a teacher, and Attilio Bertolucci, who was a poet, a reputed art historian, anthologist and film critic. [11] His mother was born in Australia, [12] [13] to an Italian father and an Australian mother (of Irish and Scottish descent).

Having been raised in an artistic environment, Bertolucci began writing at the age of 15, and soon after received several prestigious literary prizes, including the Premio Viareggio for his first book. His father's background helped his career: the elder Bertolucci had helped the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini publish his first novel, and Pasolini reciprocated by hiring Bertolucci as his first assistant in Rome on Accattone (1961).

Bertolucci had one brother, the theatre director and playwright Giuseppe (27 February 1947 – 16 June 2012). His cousin was the film producer Giovanni Bertolucci (24 June 1940 – 17 February 2005), with whom he worked on a number of films.


Directorial breakthrough

Bertolucci initially wished to become a poet like his father. With this goal in mind, he attended the Faculty of Modern Literature of the University of Rome from 1958 to 1961, where his film career as an assistant director to Pasolini began. [14] Shortly after, Bertolucci left the university without graduating. In 1962, at the age of 22, he directed his first feature film, produced by Tonino Cervi with a screenplay by Pasolini, called La commare secca (1962). The film is a murder mystery, following a prostitute's homicide. Bertolucci uses flashbacks to piece together the crime and the person who committed it. The film which shortly followed was his acclaimed Before the Revolution (Prima della rivoluzione, 1964).

The boom of Italian cinema, which gave Bertolucci his start, slowed in the 1970s as directors were forced to co-produce their films with several of the American, Swedish, French, and German companies and actors due to the effects of the global economic recession on the Italian film industry.

Bertolucci caused controversy in 1972 with the film Last Tango in Paris , starring Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Jean-Pierre Léaud and Massimo Girotti. The film presents Brando's character, Paul, as he copes with his wife's suicide by emotionally and physically dominating a young woman, Jeanne (Schneider). The depictions of Schneider, then 19 years old, have been criticized as exploitive. In one scene, Paul anally rapes Jeanne using butter as a lubricant. The use of butter was not in the script; Bertolucci and Brando had discussed it, but they did not tell Schneider. She said in 2007 that she had cried "real tears" during the scene and had felt humiliated and "a little raped". [15] [16] [17] In 2013 Bertolucci said that he had withheld the information from Schneider to generate a real "reaction of frustration and rage". [16] Brando alleged that Bertolucci had wanted the characters to have real sex, but Brando and Schneider both said it was simulated. [15] In 2016 Bertolucci released a statement where he clarified that Schneider had known of the violence to be depicted in the scene, but had not been told about the use of butter. [18]

Following the “media glare” and her fame after the film's release, Schneider became a drug addict and suicidal. [19] Criminal proceedings were brought against Bertolucci in Italy for obscenity; the film was sequestered by the censorship commission and all copies were ordered destroyed. An Italian court revoked Bertolucci's civil rights for five years and gave him a four-month suspended prison sentence. [20] In 1978 the Appeals Court of Bologna ordered three copies of the film to be preserved in the national film library with the stipulation that they could not be viewed, until Bertolucci was later able to re-submit it for general distribution with no cuts. [21] [22] [23] [24]

Bertolucci's star on Hollywood Walk of Fame Bernardo Bertolucci Hollywood Walk of Fame.jpg
Bertolucci's star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

Bertolucci increased his fame with his next few films, from 1900 (1976), an epic depiction of the struggles of farmers in Emilia-Romagna from the beginning of the 20th century up to World War II with an international cast (Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu, Donald Sutherland, Sterling Hayden, Burt Lancaster, Dominique Sanda) to La Luna , set in Rome and in Emilia-Romagna, in which Bertolucci deals with the thorny issue of drugs and incest, and finally La tragedia di un uomo ridicolo (1981), with Ugo Tognazzi. [25]

He then wrote two screenplays based on Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest. He hoped this would be his first film set in America, but nothing came of it. [26]

The Last Emperor and later career

Bertolucci in 2011 Bernardo Bertolucci.jpg
Bertolucci in 2011

In 1987, Bertolucci directed the epic The Last Emperor , a biographical film telling the life story of Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the last emperor of China. The film was independently produced by British producer Jeremy Thomas, with whom Bertolucci worked almost exclusively from then on. The film was independently financed and three years in the making. Bertolucci, who co-wrote the film with Mark Peploe, won the Academy Award for Best Director. The film uses Puyi's life as a mirror that reflects China's passage from feudalism through revolution to its current state.

At the 60th Academy Awards, The Last Emperor won all nine Oscars for which it was nominated: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Music, Original Score and Best Sound. [27]

The Last Emperor was the first feature film ever authorized by the government of the People's Republic of China to film in the Forbidden City. [28] Bertolucci had proposed the film to the Chinese government as one of two possible projects. The other film was La Condition Humaine by André Malraux. The Chinese government preferred The Last Emperor. [29]

After The Last Emperor, The Sheltering Sky and Little Buddha , Bertolucci returned to Italy to film, and to revisit his old themes but with varying results from both critics and the public. He filmed Stealing Beauty in 1996, [30] then The Dreamers in 2003, which describes the political passions and sexual revolutions of two siblings in Paris in 1968. [31]

In 2007, Bertolucci received the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival for his life's work, and in 2011 he also received the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. [32]

In 2012, his final film, Me and You was screened out of competition at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival [33] [34] and was released early in 2013 in the UK. The film is an adaptation of Niccolò Ammaniti's young adult book Me and You . The screenplay for the movie was written by Bertolucci, Umberto Contarello and Niccolò Ammaniti. [35] Bertolucci originally intended to shoot the film in 3D but was forced to abandon this plan due to cost. [36]

Bertolucci appeared on the Radio Four programme Start the Week on 22 April 2013, [37] and on Front Row on 29 April 2013, where he chose La Dolce Vita , a film directed by Federico Fellini, for the "Cultural Exchange". [38]

In the spring of 2018, in an interview with the Italian edition of Vanity Fair , Bertolucci announced that he was preparing a new film. He stated, "The theme will be love, let's call it that. In reality, the theme is communication and therefore also incommunicability. The favorite subject of Michelangelo Antonioni and the condition I found myself facing when I moved on from my films for the few, those of the sixties, to a broader cinema ready to meet a large audience." [39]

As a screenwriter, producer and actor

Bertolucci wrote many screenplays, both for his own films and for films directed by others, two of which he also produced.

He was an actor in the film Golem: The Spirit of Exile , directed by Amos Gitai in 1992. [40]

Politics and personal beliefs

Bertolucci was an atheist. [41]

Bertolucci's films are often very political. He was a professed Marxist and, like Luchino Visconti, who similarly employed many foreign artists during the late 1960s, Bertolucci used his films to express his political views. His political films were preceded by others re-evaluating history. The Conformist (1970) criticised fascism, touched upon the relationship between nationhood and nationalism, as well as issues of popular taste and collective memory, all amid an international plot by Benito Mussolini to assassinate a politically active leftist professor of philosophy in Paris. 1900 also analyses the struggle of Left and Right.

On 27 September 2009, Bertolucci was one of the signatories of the appeal to the Swiss government to release Roman Polanski, who was being held awaiting extradition to the United States. [42]

On Twitter on 24 April 2015, Bertolucci participated in #whomademyclothes, Fashion Revolution's anti-sweatshop campaign commemorating the 2013 Savar building collapse, the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry. [43]

Bertolucci advocated the practice of Transcendental Meditation: "We want to evoke the present and it is difficult to do it all together, we can only meditate, as in transcendental meditation. One of the most powerful experiences. Either you meditate or watch a good movie, then the two things start to touch ... ". [44]


Bertolucci died of lung cancer in Rome on 26 November 2018, at the age of 77. [45] [46]


Cinematographic awards


YearTitleCredited asNotes
1962 La Commare Secca YesYesNo
1964 Before the Revolution YesYesNo
1967How to Win a Billion... and Get Away with ItNoYesNo
1968 Partner YesYesNoNominated - Golden Lion
Once Upon a Time in the West NoYesNo
1969 Amore e Rabbia YesYesNoSegment: Agonia
Nominated - Golden Bear
1970 The Conformist YesYesNoNominated - Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated - Golden Bear
The Spider's Stratagem YesYesNo
1972 Last Tango in Paris YesYesNoNominated - Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated - Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Director
1976 1900 YesYesNo
1979 La Luna YesYesNo
1981 Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man YesYesNoNominated - Palme d'Or
1987 The Last Emperor YesYesNo Academy Award for Best Director
Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
BAFTA Award for Best Film
César Award for Best Foreign Film
David di Donatello for Best Director
David di Donatello for Best Screenplay
Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing
Golden Globe Award for Best Director
Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay
Nominated - BAFTA Award for Best Direction
1990 The Sheltering Sky YesYesNoNominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Director
1993 Little Buddha YesYesNo
1996 Stealing Beauty YesYesNoNominated - David di Donatello for Best Director
Nominated - Palme d'Or
1998 Besieged YesYesNoNominated - David di Donatello for Best Director
2001 The Triumph of Love NoYesYes
2002 Ten Minutes Older: The Cello YesYesNoSegment: Histoire d'eaux
2003 The Dreamers YesNoNo
2012 Me and You YesYesNoNominated - David di Donatello for Best Film
Nominated - David di Donatello for Best Director
Nominated - David di Donatello for Best Screenplay
2021The Echo ChamberNoYesYes

Documentary features

YearTitleCredited asNotes
1966Il canaleYesYesDocumentary Short
1971La salute è malataYesNo
1984L'addio a Enrico BerlinguerYesYes
198912 registi per 12 cittàYesNoSegment: Bologna


See also

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  1. Italian-born Frank Capra won in the category twice, but was a naturalized U.S. citizen.