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Bernardo Bertolucci Edit Profile

filmmaker , playwright , poet

Bernardo Bertolucci is an Italian film director, playwright and poet.

Background

Bernardo Bertolucci was born on March 16, 1940 in Parma. He was a son of Attilio Bertolucci.

Career

Bertolucci has made a substantial journey, from the romantic disenchantment of Before the Revolution. through the canceling of feelings in The Conformist, to the misanthropic howl of Last Tango in Paris, to the internationalism of The Last Emperor.

If one can look at Last Tango unhindered by its own reputation, the impression is of antistyle. The Conformist is a pursuit thriller, as witness the sinister recurring musical motifs and the several motor-car sequences—memories, perhaps, of the opening car journey in Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia. But Last Tango constantly undercuts flu¬ency: the characters live in the present tense, kept there by Brando's neurotic insistence on no names, explanations, or stories. The two plots— Brando and Leaud—interact only finally and at cross-purposes. (Few people can be expected to enjoy the “hidden-' meaning of the clash of classi¬cal American cinema and Godard's doctrinaire frenzy.) And even the sexual progress of the film is brutal, separating, and uncommunicative. Indeed, that is the very' essence of it. The first animal-like coupling is the only one that is at all human or touching, and it ends with two monsters rolling apart across a vast, empty floor. It shows

Bertoluccis feeling for the image that this spatial dislocation is so telling throughout the film: in the crosscutting between Brando and Schneider, the desert spaces of this gaunt flat where their paths have crossed, and the intrusion of doors, furni¬ture, and screens. But this has been signaled by the two Francis Bacon paintings in the credits—of imprisoned sexual meat—and is not taken anv deeper.

In part this is because the Laud subplot is lightweight by comparison, and because the girl is never a very sentient or interesting character. Brando seems like the old man ol the fuck, always on the point of breathing life into the confrontation. But the girl is trite, a little stupid, and nothing like the probing company that Dominique Sanda was for Trintignant. Against her pettiness, Brando inevitably seems to be playing a poet, madman, or brute. A more compelling companion could have illuminated him much more testingly. Brando himself is plainly ready for the former. But if the film seeks the latter course, then I think its sex is too coy.

Warhol’s cinema has shown how implacably sexuality on film is noncommunicative the more com- prehensivelv it is expressed. Last Tango has given up the nuances of sexual antagonism in The Conformist—still a greater achievement, and replaced it with an uneasy anthropological withdrawal. The more totally animal the sex, the less expressive it becomes: instead, it is like looking at ants and being told. “Now, they are in ecstasy . . . now misery." The states of mind are almost captioned, which is itself an ingredient of Bertoluccisision—that emotions are not mutual and have to be signaled—but the approach seems a dead end.

Much of Last Tango is intriguingly abstract. Few Parisian films have less sense of the actual city. Bertolucci's one recognizable location, the Bir-Hakim Bridge, is itself an oddity, made to express Brando's vulnerability to pain, more emblematic than actual. Which leads one to ask how many references there are in Last Tango to other films: a legitimate question, if only because of the way Before the Revolution contains a discussion on cinema with the teasing promise of quotes.

Last Tango has fean-Pierre Leaud as a near hysterical, Godardian cinema verite director making another reference to Vigo’s L'Atalante. That may be more than a passing joke. Vigo was a surrealist and L'Atalante has Parisian scenes that have more to do with the subconscious than with urban reality. More than that, the ill-fitting contrast between Leaud marriage and Brando mvsteriously depraved sexuality is matched in L'Atalante by the way that Dita Parlo responds to her young husband, Jean Daste, and to the aging.

but infinitely more experienced, Michel Simon. The first tango in Paris could be the music Buñuel chose to be played with Un Chien Andalou.

Bertolucci has not been surefooted in the years since. Lima and Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man were failures in most respects; and though The Sheltering Sky was well cast and had desert scenes as good as Antonioni, still the final result was so much softer than the Paul Bowfles novel. That book had fascinated so many filmmakers over the years, it was something of a tragedy to see Bertolucci subtly betray it.

But The Last Emperor was a masterpiece about a reticent man pushed in so many directions beyond his simple needs. The use of color and space, of Peking and history, of John Lone and Peter O'Toole were all masterlv. The Last Emperor is a true epic but with an alertness to feelings as small and humble as a grasshopper. Still, it is hard to escape the feeling that Bertolucci has relaxed after the danger of The Conformist and Last Tango. Thus, he hardly seemed to notice the terrible darkness waiting beyond Paul BowIes’s bright sky.

For Bertolucci, Stealing Beauty was a trifle, but Besieged is a glorious meditation on perversity and order. These could be so much more—like a promised Heaven and Hell.

Connections

father:
Attilio Bertolucci