Bernardo Bertolucci
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. With The Last Emperor (1987) he became the first Italian filmmaker to win the Academy Award for Best Director[a], and he received many other accolades including a BAFTA Award, a César Award, two Golden Globes, a Golden Lion in 2007, and an Honorary Palme d'Or at Cannes 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 rape scene and comments made by actress Maria Schneider about her treatment on set.[7] Bertolucci's later 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

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

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]


Short film

Year Title Director Writer Notes
1956 The Death of a Pig Yes Yes
The Cable Yes Yes Also editor and cinematographer
1969 Agony Yes Yes Segment of Love and Anger
2002 Histoire d'eaux Yes Yes Segment of Ten Minutes Older: The Cello

Feature film

Year Title Director Writer
1962 La commare secca Yes Yes
1964 Before the Revolution Yes Yes
1967 How to Win a Billion... and Get Away with It No Yes
1968 Partner Yes Yes
Once Upon a Time in the West No Yes
1970 The Conformist Yes Yes
The Spider's Stratagem Yes Yes
1972 Last Tango in Paris Yes Yes
1976 1900 Yes Yes
1979 La Luna Yes Yes
1981 Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man Yes Yes
1987 The Last Emperor Yes Yes
1990 The Sheltering Sky Yes Yes
1993 Little Buddha Yes Yes
1996 Stealing Beauty Yes Yes
1998 Besieged Yes Yes
2001 The Triumph of Love No Yes
2003 The Dreamers Yes No
2012 Me and You Yes Yes


Documentary works

Short film

Year Title Director Writer Notes
1966 Il canale Yes Yes
1971 La salute è malata Yes No
1989 Bologna Yes No Segment of 12 registi per 12 città
2013 Venice 70: Future Reloaded Yes No


Year Title Director Writer Notes
1976 Il silenzio è complicità No Yes Also editor
1984 L'addio a Enrico Berlinguer Yes Yes


Year Title Director Writer Notes
1967 La via del petrolio Yes Yes 3 episodes
1985 Cartoline dalla Cina Yes Yes TV short

Awards and nominations

Year Title Award/Nomination
1968 Partner Nominated - Golden Lion
1969 Amore e Rabbia Nominated - Golden Bear
1970 The Conformist National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Director
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated - Golden Bear
1972 Last Tango in Paris Nastro d'Argento for Best Director
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated - Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Director
1981 Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man Nominated - Palme d'Or
1987 The Last Emperor 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
Nastro d'Argento for Best Director
Nominated - BAFTA Award for Best Direction
1990 The Sheltering Sky Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Director
1996 Stealing Beauty Nominated - David di Donatello for Best Director
Nominated - Palme d'Or
1998 Besieged Nominated - David di Donatello for Best Director
2012 Me and You Nominated - David di Donatello for Best Film
Nominated - David di Donatello for Best Director
Nominated - David di Donatello for Best Screenplay

Other awards


See also


  1. ^ "Bernardo Bertolucci". Front Row. 29 April 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  2. ^ a b c "Medaglia d'oro ai benemeriti della cultura e dell'arte" (in Italian). Presidenza della Repubblica. 21 February 2001. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Laurea ad honorem a Bertolucci, ecco la motivazione". La Repubblica. 16 December 2014. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  4. ^ "Bernardo Bertolucci to receive Palme d'Or honour". BBC News. 11 April 2011. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  5. ^ "A director outgrowing the influence: Bernardo Bertolucci in the 1960s | Sight & Sound". British Film Institute. 28 November 2018. Retrieved 16 March 2021.
  6. ^ a b "Bernardo Bertolucci obituary: extraordinary director of visually outstanding cinema | Sight & Sound". British Film Institute. 28 November 2018. Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  7. ^ North, Anna (26 November 2018). "The disturbing story behind the rape scene in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris, explained". Vox. Retrieved 28 May 2024.
  8. ^ Leonelli, Elisa (26 November 2018). "Remembering Bernardo Bertolucci". Cultural Weekly. Retrieved 16 March 2021.
  9. ^ Ebiri, Bilge (26 July 2020). "Bertolucci, Bernardo – Senses of Cinema". Retrieved 16 March 2021.
  10. ^ Hornaday, Ann. "Perspective | More than anyone, Bernardo Bertolucci exemplified the pain and pleasure of the male gaze". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 16 March 2021.
  11. ^ "Bernardo Bertolucci Biography (1940-)". Film Reference. Retrieved 14 September 2010.
  12. ^ Bertolucci, B.; Gerard, F.S.; Kline, T.J.; Sklarew, B.H. (2000). Bernardo Bertolucci: Interviews. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781578062058. Retrieved 16 October 2016.
  13. ^ "Bernardo Bertolucci - biografia". Archived from the original on 18 October 2016. Retrieved 16 October 2016.
  14. ^ theblackpaul (3 June 2010). "A YOUNG BERTOLUCCI TALKS ABOUT PASOLINI (from "Pasolini l'Enragé")". YouTube. Google, Inc. Archived from the original on 5 March 2012. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  15. ^ a b Izadi, Elahe (5 December 2016). "Why the 'Last Tango in Paris' rape scene is generating such an outcry now", The Washington Post.
  16. ^ a b Geoffrey Macnab (1 February 2013). "Bernardo Bertolucci: 'I thought I couldn't make any more movies'". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 February 2013.
  17. ^ Summers, Hannah (4 December 2016). "Actors voice disgust over Last Tango in Paris rape scene confession", The Guardian.
  18. ^ Lee, Benjamin (5 December 2016). "Bernardo Bertolucci: Last Tango controversy is 'ridiculous'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  19. ^ McLellan, Dennis (4 February 2011). "Maria Schneider dies at 58; actress in 'Last Tango in Paris'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  20. ^ Rannakino (2012). "Bernardo Bertolucci". Rannakino. Archived from the original on 13 February 2013. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  21. ^ Rashkin, Esther (2008). Unspeakable Secrets and the Psychoanalysis of Culture. Albany, New York: SUNY Press. p. 224. ISBN 978-0791475348. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  22. ^ Malkin, Bonnie (3 December 2016). "Last Tango in Paris director suggests Maria Schneider 'butter rape' scene not consensual". The Guardian.
  23. ^ "Hollywood Reacts With Disgust, Outrage Over 'Last Tango in Paris' Director's Resurfaced Rape Scene Confession". The Hollywood Reporter. 3 December 2016.
  24. ^ Kelley, Seth (3 December 2016). "'Last Tango in Paris' Rape Scene Was Not Consensual, Director Bernardo Bertolucci Admits".
  25. ^ Canby, Vincent (12 February 1982). "Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man: A Kidnaping as Seen by Bertolucci". The New York Times.
  26. ^ "Bernardo Bertolucci obituary". The Guardian. 26 November 2018. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  27. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (12 April 1988). "'The Last Emperor' Wins 9 Oscars And Is Named Best Film of 1987". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  28. ^ Corliss, Richard (25 April 1988). "Love And Respect, Hollywood-Style". Time. Archived from the original on 5 January 2013. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
  29. ^ Champlin, Charles (6 December 1987). "Bertolucci: The Emperor's New Clothier". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  30. ^ Felsenthal, Julia (1 July 2015). "Why Stealing Beauty Is the Ultimate Summer Movie". Vogue. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  31. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (6 December 2004). "The Dreamers". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  32. ^ "Speciale Palma d'Oro a Bertolucci". Retrieved 2 August 2011.
  33. ^ "2012 Official Selection". Cannes. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  34. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (22 May 2012). "Cannes 2012: Me and You (Io e Te) – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  35. ^ Gemmi, Nicoletta (18 February 2011). "Bernardo Bertolucci girerà il suo prossimo film in 3D". Archived from the original on 26 November 2018. Retrieved 1 March 2011.
  36. ^ Vivarelli, Nick (7 October 2011). "Bertolucci abandons 3D plan for 'Me and You'". Variety. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
  37. ^ "Start the week". 22 April 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  38. ^ "Cultural Exchange". 29 April 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  39. ^ Pagani, Malcolm (26 November 2018). "Addio a Bernardo Bertolucci. L'ultima intervista". Vanity Fair (in Italian). Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  40. ^ "Archive of films Golem: The Spirit of Exile / Golem: L'esprit de l'exil". Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  41. ^ "Interview to Mymovies". Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
  42. ^ Soares, Andre (30 September 2009). "Penelope Cruz, Bernardo Bertolucci, Gael Garcia Bernal Sign Polanski Petition". Alt Film Guide. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  43. ^ "Fashion Revolution: who made your clothes?".
  44. ^ "Bertolucci, addio a uno sguardo eclettico sulla realtà –". 26 November 2018.
  45. ^ Bignardi, Irene (26 November 2018). "È morto Bernardo Bertolucci, l'ultimo grande maestro". La Repubblica. Divisione Stampa Nazionale. GEDI Gruppo Editoriale S.p.A. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  46. ^ "Oscar-winning director Bertolucci dies". BBC News. BBC. 26 November 2018. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  47. ^ Devipriya (January 1999). "30th IFFI Stars" (PDF). 30th International Film Festival of India '99. Directorate of Film Festivals. p. 150. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 January 2013. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  48. ^ "Grande Ufficiale Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana" (in Italian). Presidenza della Repubblica. 2 June 1988. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  1. ^ Italian-born Frank Capra won in the category twice, but was a naturalized U.S. citizen.