The controversial, Oscar winning writer and director Bernardo Bertolucci has died on Monday after a bout with cancer. He was 77.
Bertolucci broke into film at age 22 in 1962 with his first film, La commare secca. He would spend the next ten years building up his reputation in Italy with films like 1964’s Before the Revolution and 1970’s The Conformist, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
His big breakthrough came with 1972’s Last Tango in Paris. Marlon Brando stars as an American widower who engages in an anonymous and eventually destructive relationship with a young Parisian woman (Maria Schneider). The film was scandalous in its day for its explicit sexual content, including a scene where Brando’s character anally rapes Schneider’s character while using butter as a lubricant.
That scene brought criminal charges against Bertolucci in his native Italy, with an Italian court revoking Bertolucci’s civil rights for five years and giving him a four-month suspended prison sentence. The film itself was banned in Chile, Portugal, and South Korea and released in the United States with an ‘X” rating. But despite all the controversy, Bertolucci received his second Oscar nomination, this time for Best Director.
With his new international status, he was able to get a impressive cast for his next project, 1976’s 1900. The sprawling epic that details the class struggle and political upheaval in Italy from 1900 to 1945 had a cast that featured Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu, Donald Sutherland, Sterling Hayden, and Burt Lancaster.
Bertolucci’s follow-up was the 1979 English language film Luna, dealing with heroin abuse and incest, and after that the 1981 Italian language film Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man.
Next came 1987’s The Last Emperor, Bertolucci’s biopic for Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the last Emperor of China. Yet another sweeping epic, the film became the first movie to film in China’s Forbidden City. The film won all nine Academy Awards it was nominated for, including two for Bertolucci: Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (which he shared with Mark Peploe).
That would prove to be Bertolucci’s last Oscar nomination. He would go on to make The Sheltering Sky (1990), Little Buddha (1993), Stealing Beauty (1996), Besieged (1998) and 2002’s The Dreamers. His last film would be 2012’s Me and You.