He was Italian from end to end – and yet Bernardo Bertolucci is inevitably associated with the capital of the French. Paris was an essential location in two of his most famous films made in the early seventies – the work that made him famous ("The Great Error" about a follower who joins fascism with the Italian secret police) and above all "O Last Tango ". Paris ": basically a film about the inevitable, legendary solitude, but mostly through blatant sex scenes between Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider – and through censorship attempts that made the film even more successful.
In it, a middle-aged American finds himself in an apartment with a young French woman, exclusively for sex. Their relationship remains enigmatic, their lives also end fatally. The compulsive idea of a sexual encounter with a stranger in an unfamiliar apartment made Bertolucci cheer up with this story; The street in which she plays mainly is not for nothing named after a master of literary fantasies, Jules Verne.
Many puzzles, many allusions to art and myth (here, for example, the work of the Irish painter Francis Bacon or the figure of Orpheus), the great importance of colors, details of the image, the long shots of the camera, the gesture operatic – these are just a few features of Bertolucci films. As the son of a literary professor and a well-known poet, born in the 1972 war, it became a public topic of conversation in Europe and the United States with "The Last Tango in Paris", made movies a decade ago. Not less than a month in Paris after graduation prompted him to prefer this genre of art to literature – who still knows that the young Bertolucci received for one of his poetry books one of the most important Italian literary awards, the Viareggio Prize. (I.e.
Pasolini was your teacher.
But it led him to the film: thanks to Paris, thanks to his enthusiasm for the work of Jean-Luc Godard (of which he distanced himself only with films such as "The Great Mistake" and "The Last Tango in Paris") and not least Meeting the Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini. His father helped Pasolini publish his first novel and poems; in the first film of Pasolini was Bertolucci 1961, assistant director. Bertolucci also shared his sympathy for communism with his teacher and other famous Italian directors of that period. His childhood years in a village with lots of contact with farmers contributed to this. He also wanted to establish a monument to both communism and peasantry – with his monumental but artistically less interesting "1900" film, simply narrated for the sake of the message. Half a century of Italian history is shown here, with stars such as Burt Lancaster, Gérard Depardieu, Donald Sutherland and Robert De Niro.
And Bertolucci remained in the local Italy or narrowed it to its native region around Parma. He made "La Luna" (1979) about an incestuous mother-son relationship and a political film about a businessman whose son is kidnapped: "The tragedy of a ridiculous man" (1981).
From the emperor to the gardener
Men, men and men again – their mood is the big theme of Bertolucci's films. In their work, women are more functions of man than their own characters. The bold design of "The Last Tango in Paris" also resulted from an intense psychoanalytic exchange between director and lead actor Marlon Brando. The development of a man is also in "The Last Emperor" (1987) – from a caterpillar to a butterfly, from a dragon to a human and ordinary citizens.
Nine Oscars earned him this adaptation of the biography of Emperor Puyi of China, who rose to the throne in the early 20th century as a two-year-old for only three years and died in 1967 as a simple gardener. It was also spectacular in this opulent epic that for the first time a western film crew was allowed to film in the Forbidden City.
Not just with "The Last Emperor", long before, Bertolucci moved away from its experimental beginnings towards a more conventionally aesthetically consumable cinema. He disappointed many former fans – and won new ones. Now, at 77, he died in Rome of the consequences of cancer: one of the last of the great Italian cinema is dead.
("Die Presse", printed edition, 11/27/2018)