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Bernardo Bertolucci (born March 16, 1940) is an Italianmarker film director and screenwriter, probably best known for such films as The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor and The Dreamers.

Early years and background

Bertolucci was born in the Italian city of Parmamarker, in the region of Emilia Romagna. He was the elder son of his father, Attilio, who was a poet, a reputed art historian, anthologist and a film critic. Having been raised in such an environment, Bertolucci began writing at the age of fifteen, 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 first assistant in Rome on Accattone (1961). But Bertolucci's potential had already been noticed by others, such as Sergio Leone, who asked him to write the storyline for Once Upon a Time in the West. Leone later rejected it as too cerebral for an Americanmarker audience.

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

Bertolucci's first wife was Adriana Asti, star of his early film Prima della rivoluzione. In 1978, he married Clare Peploe, a British screenwriter who has since directed a few films as well.

First film

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 Romemarker from 1958 to 1961. As noted above, this is where his film career as an assistant director to Pasolini began. Shortly after, Bertolucci left the University without graduating. In 1962, at the age of 21, he directed his first feature film, 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. It has been speculated that this is the point in its history at which Italian cinema began to depend upon the international market.

Collaboration with co-producers

In order both to finance them and to appear competitive in the now-international entertainment industry, directors were increasingly forced to co-produce their films with foreign companies and Bertolucci was no exception. Last Tango in Paris (1972), starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, exemplified the new trend for Italian movies to attempt to make more money by employing foreign actors in starring roles: Last Tango in Paris included only one Italian actor, Massimo Girotti, in a main role. Bertolucci's 1900 (1976), starring Burt Lancaster, Donald Sutherland, Robert de Niro, and Gérard Depardieu, is often said to mark the point at which the Italian film industry's dependence on the international market began to contribute to the disintegration of its national identity, although the film itself is entirely focused on an Italian theme: it chronicles the lives of two men during the political turmoils that took place in Italymarker in the first half on the 20th century.


Bertolucci might not regret this disintegration: he is actively political, and a professed Marxist. Like Visconti, who similarly employed many foreign artists during the late 1960s, Bertolucci uses his films to express his political views; hence they are often autobiographical as well as highly controversial. His political films were preceded by others re-evaluating history. The Conformist (1970) criticised Fascist ideology, touched upon the relationship between nationhood and nationalism, as well as issues of popular taste and collective memory, all amid an international plot by Mussolini to assassinate a politically active leftist professor of philosophy in Paris. 1900 also analyses the struggle of Left and Right. The 1987 epic The Last Emperor (recently re-released at an extended 219 minutes) allowed Bertolucci to influence politics both through his characters and through the act of making the film itself. He was granted unprecedented permission to film in the Forbidden Citymarker of Beijing, and the film's central character Pu Yi undergoes a decade-long communist re-education under Mao which takes him from the peacock colours of the palace to the grey suit worn by his contemporaries to live out his life as a gardener.


Many critics see the defining characteristics of Bertolucci's films to comprise of three things: sex, politics and cinephilia. Last Tango in Paris examines sex in an extremely carnal and disturbed way. It is seen as an erotic film which opened the door to eroticism in general-release films. The Conformist is based political themes, more specifically, fascism, and the relationship between personal comfort and ideals. The film deals with Fascist Italy and can be seen as both artistic and intellectual. This film is thought to demonstrate his excellence as a director. While he has directed, written, or been otherwise involved in dozens of movies over five decades, and his range is extremely broad, these themes nonetheless figure prominently throughout his work, especially in his most noted and most recent releases. Stealing Beauty offers little heterogeneity and The Dreamers manages to include all three subject matters and little else. Whether this narrowness is Bertolucci's intent or merely a symptom of the narrowness some critics accuse him of, he has used the controversy aroused by his films iconoclastically to encourage people to reconsider themselves and their society; he is often considered successful in pushing back the boundaries of propriety. Bertolucci enthusiasts will also notice the similarities between characters in films, particularly in the two most recent (Stealing Beauty, 1996, and The Dreamers, 2003). For example, the two female leads in both films (Liv Tyler and Eva Green), are fair of skin, slender, dark haired and blue eyed. Both characters are heavy smokers during the fashionable ages of youth, and both are shown losing their virginities at the age of nineteen (the same age of actress Maria Schneider during the production of Last Tango in Paris). Tyler, Green and Schneider appear in full frontal nude scenes. In both Stealing Beauty and The Dreamers, Bertolucci speaks of 'proof of love,' using almost the exact same lines each time.

Spiritualism, certainty and self-doubt

Bertolucci also has a talent for putting the human soul under the microscope. Psychoanalysis is as central to his films as it is to Woody Allen's, and Marlon Brando claimed that Bertolucci's sharing of psychoanalytical confidences with the star on the set of Last Tango in Paris helped elicit the performance that many consider Brando's best. Bertolucci himself is also known for the number of psychologists who have followed him everywhere, even interpreting his dreams, as a subject of dissertations and research on the creative artist. His interest in understanding the human condition has led to the many explicit scenes in his films.

Last Tango in Paris presents Brando's character Paul as he finds comfort in an anonymous affair after the death of his wife in violent circumstances. The film caused controversy in Italy for a sodomy scene, and it 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. Many years after, when the general modesty had changed and the censorship commission had been abolished, the film reappeared (because Bertolucci had kept a clandestine copy) and was projected in a slightly censored version.

In this and other films, Bertolucci examines the power of sexual relations in people's lives. Stealing Beauty gives a visual account of a girl growing into a woman during a summer abroad. His latest work, The Dreamers, has been criticised not only for its extensive sex scenes but also for the inclusion of male masturbation. In it, the sexual relations of three main characters serve to expose their thoughts. For instance, when Theo is shown to masturbate it is in the context that the one he loves the most, his sister, seems to be growing away from him and he can see the development of a relationship between the newcomer and his sister that excludes him. The film hints at a relationship between brother and sister, a relationship that borders on incest. The chaos in ordered family relationships mirrors the chaos on the streets outside as France experiences the turbulent May 1968 days of the student revolt.

Red Harvest

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. The reason for this was his wanting to branch out into other forms of cinema. 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.

Academy Award

In1987, Bertolucci directed the epic The Last Emperor, a biographical film telling the life story of Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the last Emperor of Chinamarker. The film was independently produced by noted British producer Jeremy Thomas, who became Bertolucci's preferred producer. Bertolucci has worked almost exclusively with Thomas from then on. The film was independently financed and three years in the making. Bertolucci won the Academy Award for Best Director. The movie starred John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O'Toole, Ruocheng Ying, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Maggie Han, Ric Young, Vivian Wu, and Chen Kaige. Bertolucci co-wrote the film with Mark Peploe. The Last Emperor 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

The Last Emperor was the first feature film ever authorized by the government of the People's Republic of Chinamarker to film in the Forbidden Citymarker. 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, and made no restrictions on the content. The Last Emperor became the first western film made in China and about the country to be produced with full Chinese government cooperation since 1949.

Upcoming projects

Bertolucci is said to be working on a historical romance centring on 16th Century classical musician (and murderer) Carlo Gesualdo. It is also known that frequent Bertolucci collaborator Mark Peploe worked on the screenplay. Working titles include Heaven and Helll and Love Song.


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