Bernardo Bertolucci, the influential Italian director of Last Tango in Paris and The Last Emperor, has passed away at the age of 77. The news of Bertolucci’s death was confirmed by his publicist. The filmmaker passed away in Rome following a battle with cancer.
During his five-decade career, working both in Europe and in Hollywood, Bernardo Bertolucci had a major influence on the movie world. The filmmaker got his start in the 1960s in Italian cinema with works such as La Commare Secca (The Grim Reaper), which served as his feature directorial debut. He would later go on to helm the political feature Before the Revolution (1964), before directing one of his most acclaimed works with 1970’s The Conformist.
Born to a wealthy family in 1941, Bernardo Bertolucci was the son of Attilio Bertolucci, a well-regarded poet. After winning an award for poetry at the age of 21 himself, the younger Bertolucci decided that he wanted to begin a career as a filmmaker. Just two years later, Before the Revolution played at Cannes and won over the critical community. Bertolucci went on to garner his first Academy Award nomination several years later in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for his work on The Conformist.
However, it was with 1987’s The Last Emperor that Bernardo Bertolucci would make his biggest impression at the Oscars. The adaptation of the autobiography of Pu Yi, China’s last imperial ruler, remains a very highly-regarded and influential piece of cinema history. The movie is still amongst the most awarded in the history of the Academy Awards, sweeping every major category, including Best Picture and Best Director. To date, Bertolucci remains the only Italian director to ever win the award. In total, the movie won nine Oscars.
Aside from The Last Emperor, the filmmaker’s other most influential and iconic work is probably 1972’s Last Tango In Paris, which stars Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider. The movie was an arthouse sensation and remains a touchstone of that decade. However, it was also subject to a great deal of controversy. The movie features a graphic sodomy rape scene, in which, butter was used as a lubricant. Actress Schneider, prior to her passing, stated that she “felt humiliated and…a little raped.” for his part, Bertolucci denied that he had mistreated the actress. In a 2011 interview, the director actually attributed the success of Last Tango In Paris, in part, to the controversy.
“I think ‘Last Tango’s’ success was in part due to the scandal, the sodomy, the butter, but in truth, it’s a tremendously desperate movie. It’s very rare that such a desperate movie manages to have such a widespread audience.”
Some of his other notable works include the sprawling epic 1900, which nearly ended his career following a feud with Paramount, and clocks in at more than four hours, as well as The Sheltering Sky (1990) and The Dreamers (2003). Bernardo Bertolucci completed his last movie, Me and You, which was released in 2012, working in a wheelchair, which he was in as the result of several surgeries gone wrong due to a herniated disc. RIP, Bertolucci, he is survived by his wife, filmmaker Clare Peploe. This news was previously reported by Variety.