Bernardo Bertolucci

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Bernardo Bertolucci was a renowned Italian filmmaker who left an indelible mark on world cinema. With a career spanning over five decades, he is often hailed as one of the greatest directors of all time. His unique vision, groundbreaking techniques, and daring subject matters have earned him critical acclaim, numerous awards, and a place in the hearts of film enthusiasts all over the world.

In this article, we will delve into the life and legacy of Bernardo Bertolucci, exploring his journey as a filmmaker, his most notable works, and the impact he has had on the world of cinema. We will also take a closer look at his style, themes, and techniques, and examine how they have influenced future generations of filmmakers. So, sit back, grab some popcorn, and join us on a journey through the extraordinary career of Bernardo Bertolucci.

Early Life and Career (1941-1969)


Childhood and Education

Born on March 16, 1941, in Parma, Italy, Bernardo Bertolucci grew up in a family that had a deep appreciation for the arts. His father, Attilio Bertolucci, was a renowned poet and film critic, while his mother, Ninetta Giovanardi, was a teacher. It was no surprise that young Bernardo developed a love for literature and cinema from a very early age.

He began writing poetry and short stories in his teenage years and even tried his hand at making films with his father’s 8mm camera. However, it wasn’t until he attended the University of Rome that he seriously considered pursuing a career in filmmaking. During his time there, he befriended future filmmakers such as Sergio Citti and Pier Paolo Pasolini, who would become major influences in his life.

Early Works and Breakthrough

Bertolucci’s first foray into the film industry was as an assistant director on Pasolini’s film “Accattone” in 1961. He then went on to work on several other films, including “La Commare secca” (The Grim Reaper) and “Before the Revolution,” which marked his debut as a director.

However, it was his third feature film, “The Conformist” (1970), that garnered international attention and launched his career. The film, based on the novel by Alberto Moravia, explored the themes of fascism and conformity in 1930s Italy and was praised for its stunning visuals and complex storytelling. It also earned Bertolucci his first Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.


Masterpieces of the 1970s (1970-1979)


The Last Tango in Paris (1972)

“The Last Tango in Paris” is arguably Bertolucci’s most controversial and influential film. Starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, it pushed the boundaries of sensuality and explicitness in cinema. The film follows a middle-aged American man (Brando) who engages in a highly sexual relationship with a young French woman (Schneider) without revealing their names or personal information.

“The Last Tango in Paris” ignited debates about sexuality, consent, and the role of women in society. It was hailed as a masterpiece by some and condemned as obscene by others. Despite the controversy, the film was a commercial success and earned Bertolucci another Academy Award nomination for Best Director.

1900 (1976)

After the success of “Last Tango,” Bertolucci embarked on his most ambitious project yet, “1900.” Spanning over five hours, this epic film chronicles the lives of two men, one born into privilege and the other into poverty, during the first half of the 20th century in Italy. Starring Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu, and Burt Lancaster, “1900” is a sweeping saga that explores themes of class struggle, politics, and the rise of fascism.

Despite its length, the film received critical acclaim and was nominated for numerous awards, including Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. It also solidified Bertolucci’s reputation as a master storyteller with a keen eye for detail and a knack for bringing complex characters to life.

Collaborations and International Recognition (1980-1999)

The Last Emperor (1987)

Bertolucci’s next major work was “The Last Emperor,” a biographical drama about the life of Puyi, the last emperor of China. The film marked his first collaboration with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who would become a key collaborator on many of his future projects. With a budget of $23 million, it was the most expensive Chinese-language film ever made at the time.

“The Last Emperor” was a critical and commercial success, winning nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Bertolucci. It also marked the first time an Italian director won the award. The film’s grand scale, stunning visuals, and compelling storytelling solidified Bertolucci’s standing as one of the greatest filmmakers of his time.

The Dreamers (2003)

After a gap of almost ten years, Bertolucci returned to the big screen with “The Dreamers.” Set in Paris in 1968, the film follows three young cinephiles who isolate themselves in their apartment during the student protests. As they explore their sexuality and experiment with filmmaking, they become entangled in a complex love triangle.

“The Dreamers” received mixed reviews, with some critics praising its nostalgic depiction of the ’60s and others criticizing its explicit sexual content. However, it remains a favorite among fans of Bertolucci’s work and is considered a love letter to cinema and youth.

Legacy and Impact

Bernardo Bertolucci’s influence on world cinema cannot be overstated. He was a pioneer in pushing the boundaries of what was considered acceptable in film, both thematically and stylistically. Throughout his career, he tackled controversial subjects such as politics, sexuality, and identity with boldness and sensitivity, earning him a reputation as a fearless storyteller.

Bertolucci’s collaborations with talented artists such as Vittorio Storaro, screenwriter Franco Arcalli, and composer Ennio Morricone have resulted in some of the most visually stunning and emotionally resonant films ever made. His use of color, symbolism, and music has inspired countless filmmakers and continues to be studied in film schools around the world.

His impact can also be seen in the works of renowned directors such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Quentin Tarantino, who have all cited Bertolucci as an inspiration. He has left a lasting legacy not only through his own films but also through the many filmmakers he has influenced throughout his illustrious career.

In November 2018, the world bid farewell to one of its greatest filmmakers, Bernardo Bertolucci. He may have left us physically, but his legacy lives on through his timeless films and the impact he has had on cinema.


YearFilm TitleGenrePlot
1962La commare seccaCrime/DramaSet in Rome, the film follows the investigation of a prostitute’s murder. The narrative unfolds through a series of flashbacks, each one revealing new information about the victim and her associates. As the story progresses, the audience gains insight into the lives of various characters connected to the crime, leading to a dramatic and unexpected conclusion.
1964Before the RevolutionDrama/RomanceThis film centers around a young man named Fabrizio, who struggles with his political beliefs and personal desires. Set in Italy during the 1960s, the story explores Fabrizio’s internal conflict as he navigates love, politics, and societal expectations. As he becomes increasingly disillusioned with both his romantic relationships and his revolutionary ideals, the film delves into the complexities of personal and political identity.
1968PartnerDramaAdapted from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, this film revolves around a man named Golyadkin, who encounters a doppelgänger that begins to take over his life. As Golyadkin’s mental state deteriorates, the boundaries between reality and delusion blur, leading to a gripping exploration of identity, paranoia, and psychological turmoil.
1970The ConformistDrama/ThrillerSet in Fascist Italy, the film follows Marcello Clerici, a man tasked with assassinating his former professor, who is now an anti-fascist living in Paris. As Marcello grapples with his own insecurities and desires for conformity, the narrative delves into themes of political manipulation, personal morality, and the struggle for individuality within a repressive society.
1972Last Tango in ParisDrama/RomanceA controversial and provocative film, “Last Tango in Paris” explores the intense, anonymous relationship between a recently widowed American man and a young Parisian woman. Their affair, conducted in a vacant apartment, becomes a raw and emotionally charged exploration of love, loss, and human connection, challenging societal norms and traditional notions of intimacy.
19761900Drama/HistorySpanning several decades, “1900” chronicles the lives of two men, Alfredo and Olmo, who grow up together in rural Italy but find themselves on opposite sides of the social and political divide. Against the backdrop of significant historical events, their friendship and conflicting ideologies reflect the broader struggles of class warfare, power dynamics, and the impact of ideology on personal relationships.
1987The Last EmperorBiography/DramaThis epic biographical film recounts the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China, from his early childhood to adulthood. The narrative traces Puyi’s extraordinary journey, from his ascension to the throne at a young age to his eventual abdication and life as a commoner. Through stunning visuals and a compelling portrayal of historical events, the film offers a poignant exploration of power, identity, and the tumultuous changes that shaped China during the 20th century.
1990The Sheltering SkyDrama/RomanceBased on the novel by Paul Bowles, the film follows an American couple, Port and Kit Moresby, as they travel through North Africa in an attempt to revitalize their strained marriage. Amidst the exotic landscapes and unfamiliar cultures, their journey becomes a reflection of their inner turmoil, exposing the fragility of their relationship and the existential challenges they face in a world far removed from their own.
1993Little BuddhaDramaWhen a group of Tibetan monks visits Seattle in search of a reincarnated lama, they encounter a young boy named Jesse, whom they believe to be the reincarnation they seek. As they share the story of Siddhartha (the historical Buddha) with Jesse, the film weaves together the ancient legend and the modern-day quest, exploring themes of spirituality, destiny, and the universal search for meaning.
1996Stealing BeautyDrama/RomanceSet in Tuscany, the film centers on a young American woman named Lucy, who travels to Italy to reconnect with family friends and uncover the identity of her biological father. Amidst the picturesque Italian countryside, Lucy’s journey becomes a transformative experience, as she navigates complex relationships, discovers her own desires, and confronts the mysteries of her past, ultimately finding a sense of self-discovery and emotional awakening.
1998BesiegedDrama/RomanceThe film follows the relationship between an African woman named Shandurai and her reclusive, enigmatic neighbor, Kinsky, an eccentric musician. As Kinsky becomes infatuated with Shandurai, he expresses his affection through unusual gestures, leading to a delicate and unconventional romance that transcends language and cultural barriers. Against the backdrop of Kinsky’s dilapidated Roman mansion, their connection becomes a poignant exploration of love, sacrifice, and the power of human connection.
2003The Dreamers
DrammaticoParigi, Maggio 1968. La città è in subbuglio per le rivolte studentesche. In questo contesto turbolento, due gemelli francesi, Théo (Louis Garrel) e Isabelle (Eva Green), si ritrovano soli a casa mentre i loro genitori sono in vacanza.
Un giorno, durante una manifestazione alla Cinémathèque Française, incontrano Matthew (Michael Pitt), un giovane studente americano. I tre, accomunati dalla passione per il cinema, stringono amicizia e decidono di chiudersi in casa per vivere un’esperienza di libertà e condivisione totale
2012Me and YouDramaLorenzo, a withdrawn teenager, decides to skip a school ski trip and instead hides out in the basement of his apartment building. Unexpectedly, his half-sister Olivia, whom he barely knows, shows up seeking refuge from her own troubles. As they spend time together in isolation, their complex family dynamics and personal struggles come to the surface, leading to a profound exploration of identity, acceptance, and the bonds that unite them.


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