Bernardo Bertolucci, Directed 'Last Tango In Paris,' Dies At 77

Nov 26, 2018
Originally published on November 26, 2018 9:24 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A huge name in the world of film has died - Bernardo Bertolucci. He directed "Last Tango In Paris" and the Oscar Award-winning film "The Last Emperor." Here to talk about Bertolucci's career and legacy, NPR's senior arts critic Bob Mondello. Hi, Bob.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Hey.

MARTIN: So Bertolucci came of age in Italy in the political tumult of the 1960s. How did that end up shaping his art?

MONDELLO: Well, he was coming of age in the middle of the Italian neo-realist movement. You've got to picture - everything was in black and white and basically very realistic. And he was making almost immediately films that were sensual and about politics and that were period pieces often. The very first film he made was "Before The Revolution." He went on to make films like "The Conformist," which was about fascism in Italy, and other exotic and beautiful pictures like "1900," which starred Robert De Niro and Burt Lancaster. They're - that one was over three hour - 3 1/2 hours long...

MARTIN: Wow.

MONDELLO: ...Just massive, beautiful films that were not like the kinds of things that Antonioni and Fellini were doing at that point.

MARTIN: I think we've got some tape of Bertolucci talking on Fresh Air back in 1996.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI: I am a film director. My work is grabbing a camera and putting the camera in front of the reality. The reality is there. And I become, like, a servant of the reality because you cannot lie to the camera.

MONDELLO: That's him talking about the period that he was in. And he really believed that I think.

MARTIN: And, Bob, had so many big-name films, obviously "Last Tango In Paris." Was that his most famous?

MONDELLO: Yeah. I think you could say it was his most infamous. It featured a sex scene that made it a huge and popular hit, I suppose, back in the 1970s but that also got him into a lot of trouble. It starred Maria Schneider as a young girl and Marlon Brando as an aging American widower in Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LAST TANGO IN PARIS")

MARIA SCHNEIDER: (As Jeanne) Give me some more whiskey.

MARLON BRANDO: (As Paul) Oh, I thought you weren't drinking.

SCHNEIDER: (As Jeanne) Well, I'm thirsty, and I now want some more drink.

BRANDO: (As Paul) All right. I think that's a good idea.

MONDELLO: Now, the scene that got all the controversy was a scene that was essentially a rape, that Marlon Brando went after Maria Schneider. And the director did not tell Maria Schneider that that was going to be the impact of that scene...

MARTIN: Wow.

MONDELLO: ...Before - exactly, before making it. And so it shocked her. And she gave the performance he was looking for, which was that of a young girl. But it also got the film and him into a lot of trouble. He was actually - for a time he lost his civil rights in Italy over obscenity charges.

MARTIN: Did that hurt him more broadly in Hollywood, in filmmaking?

MONDELLO: Well, yes and no. I mean, he continued to make films. And many years later, he was making things like "The Last Emperor," which was a hugely successful film...

MARTIN: Much-acclaimed, right.

MONDELLO: ...That won all sorts of Academy Awards - everything, in fact, that it was nominated for.

MARTIN: So if I wanted to watch a film that really captures what he was about, what his filmmaking style was, what do you recommend?

MONDELLO: Well, I can only say the one that moved me when I was a kid. I saw "The Conformist" when I was still in college, a film about fascism in Italy and wanting to get outside of the politics of all of that. And what I remember about it was a scene of dancing that - it's just so powerful and beautiful and sensual and gorgeous. I mean, he made beautiful films. And they inspired a whole generation of filmmakers, including the likes of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. He was a master.

MARTIN: NPR senior arts critic Bob Mondello remembering Bernardo Bertolucci. Thank you so much, Bob.

MONDELLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.