Tthat legacy and reputation of Bernardo Bertolucci is brilliant, yet complex: he was one of the giants of European cinema, an exciting antifascist soldier of postwar culture, a liberating theologian of films who struggled to understand the competitive demands of radical Catholicism and Marxism left. He was a contemporary of Fellini, Visconti and Pasolini who created a distinctive kind of Italian new wave with his brilliant early films Before the Revolution (1964) and the Conformist (1970), but he managed to translate that prestige into Hollywood success in several ways European filmmakers were ready or capable.
He did this with his colossal and multi-award winning epic The Last King (1987), produced by Jeremy Thomas. It was the story of the little child, who was China's last power when the Maoist revolution arrived, completely isolated in the outdated ornaments of power, and Bertolucci had unseen permission to film inside the Forbidden City in Beijing. If Bertolucci ever felt anxiety that he himself could be one of the last emperors of high-profile cinema, the male creator, ruler of the law, he certainly never showed it.
He must have lived long enough to see the traditional prerogatives and prestige of the alpha male writers who had been challenged – and to see his most famous work, "Last Tango In Paris" (1972), became convicted in two different periods and for various reasons. The sexually explicit story of a middle-aged man (played by Marlon Brando) and his obsessive relationship with a younger woman (Maria Schneider) contained scenes of emotional abuse and sex in which the consent element was ambiguous to say at least. It was first attacked on the release of conventional moralistic grounds and appropriately defended in the context of freedom, permissiveness and sexual revolution. Pauline Kael said it was the most important cultural event of Stravinsky's "Stravinsky Spring Ages". The cultural battles of reactionary law and the progressive left were quite clearly drawn.
But in 2016, Bertolucci announced at the event that the notorious scene in which Brando's brute brutally penetrates Schneider with a stick of butter was impromptu but planned by Brando and the director in advance, without telling Schneider because she wanted her humiliation to It seems real and realistic. Two powerful men were effectively prone to attacking a younger woman. A video of his statement appeared three years later and quickly shared in social media. Abusiveness was widespread. I myself wrote that my own analysis of the film, which emphasized the "balancing" effect of Brando's character, who later demanded that he be penetrated by Schneider using his fingers, now obviously had to be re-examined. There was no balance. Erotism resides in something other than mutual liberation and research, although the toxic power of male self-hatred and self-destruction is still real, and I still think it's a powerful movie. For his part, Bertolucci remained unpardonable, and earlier this year, at the event marking the restoration of Last Tango at the international film festival Bari, he sharply announced that Ridley Scott should be "ashamed" of replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plumer in his film All the money in the world, and that he himself would like to work with the actor.
Bertolucci was not a director who replied to the #MeToo movement with strategic silence or repentance or self-examination, an even less reassuring attempt to reconcile the liberal intentions of his work with what he was a hostile interpretation of women and men who saw sexism and arrogance in his creative career. He clearly felt that as an old soldier of the film business, he did not have to explain himself. In fact, he made a tired and worldly performance in the documented Novel and Abandoned (2013), all about the difficulties faced by older and unmanned men in the Chinese industry – directed by another disgraced person, James Tobak.
But none of this, however, erased the memory of his brilliance and his bold creativity. His pre-revolutionary revolution, when he was only 22 years old, is an exciting blend of erotic and political opportunity – though, of course, with a particularly masculine look, contemplating new and contradictory demands of Catholicism and Marxism. In "Conformist" (1970), Jean-Louis Trentignant plays a young gay man in the orchestra to make a background that tries to fit, adapt, by joining the fascists. It is a film whose themes of violence and loyalty were clearly influenced by Copola, but with a markedly patriotic disagreement and a feeling of high tragedy and pain. The film was based on the novel by Alberto Moravia, whose own work was a remarkable incentive for filmmakers: Goddard Failure, The Two Women of De Sica and Khan L 'Ennui were also based on his books.
Bertolucci in 1900, published in 1976, was a giant Euro-epic of a high-minded and hublike kind, almost Wagnerian in his size, about two friends from the opposite ends of the social spectrum, played by Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu. It was a long time, subject to fierce controversy between the director and producer of veteran Alberto Grimaldi, who worked with Visconti and Pontecorvo, and made a part in promoting the cult of the ex-manian director. In 1900, there was no focus and relevance that people appreciated in Bertolucci, and was a little forgotten – although perhaps it was ripe for reassessment, such as the Tsamin's Heavenly Gate.
La Luna (1979) was a return to sexually transgressive subjects, although this film is considered to be dating and its controversial qualities now seem a little unusual. His later, Nabokovsky film Stealing Beauty (1996) is similarly subjected to criticism as a very masculine kind of admiration for the beauty of a young woman, or fantasies of men young and old. However, the Last Tsar (1987) was a massive but atypical epic for Bertolucci, a huge monument closer to David Lynn's style, which Richard Attenborough rebuilt in 1982's mega-gendarme Gandhi, although Bertolucci's film did not have big actor stars. With nine Oscar awards, it was a film that solidified its reputation and gave it a cut in Hollywood in a way that most European directors of their harvest can only dream or despise. It was a very impressive and satisfying film with an authentic pioneering spirit.
Among his later films, The Sheltering Sky (1990) was a literary adaptation with John Malkovich and Debra Winger as an American couple who came to North Africa on a journey to revive their marriage again. For me, he is significant and even remarkable for the enigmatic chamber sample by Paul Bull himself, author of the original novel, which reflects on the nature of mankind. This is yet another of the greatest literary stories in the history of the film – at the same level as Graeme Greene on Trumpet's Day of the Night.
My favorite later Bertolucci is his cheerful and sensual The Dreamers (2003) with the script of the great British film writer Gilbert Adair, adapting his novel The Holy Innocents, a story about lectures from 1968 and the birth of the French new wave. His last work was a witty, minor person entrusted to me by two executives "Me and You" (2013).
Bertolucci was an excellent film maker, but undoubtedly one of that generation blurred by #MeToo, and it's sad, but perhaps inevitable, that he could not find it in his heart to get involved with these new ideas. Perhaps he thought he was too old to wake up from battle, to embark on a new set of supporters, and that this is a fad that will disappear like everyone else, to leave undamaged eternal fidelity to art. The latest tango In Paris is now the subject of debate as much as respect. He still has the power to shock, but also put the filmmakers in a ghastly trance, especially in that inspired final shot, showing the last thing Brando sees before he dies. Fans will also return to the luxurious pleasures of his Last King and the fierce intelligence of the Conformist and before the revolution-intense memories of his revolutionary non-conformism.