Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci has died at age 77. While famous for his Oscar-winning films, one disturbing story from the set of his 1972 film, Last Tango in Paris remains at the forefront of many minds as fans mourn the director. A few months ago, a video from 2013 resurfaced, in which the director admitted that he and star Marlon Brando planned and executed the film's rape scene without Maria Schneider's consent. The actress was only 19 at the time, and was unaware that her co-star was going to assault her with a stick of butter. The reason? Bertolucci wanted to capture her raw emotions — not to act, but to actually experience the trauma in real time.
The film has enjoyed enduring acclaim from critics, as has Bertolucci's other work, dredging up the old question of whether one can enjoy a film if we know the artist behind it has done distasteful or even abhorrent things. That's a personal decision that everyone must make for themselves, but as Bertolucci's legacy is celebrated posthumously, it's important not to erase the darker side of it, even if it makes the good a little more complicated.
Original story follows.
Last Tango in Paris, a 1972 Bernardo Bertolucci film, is famed for its explicit sex scenes starring 48-year-old Marlon Brando and 19-year-old French actress Maria Schneider. At the time, it was given an X rating, the equivalent of a modern-day NC-17 — and to this day, its on-screen trysts remain controversial. Both Schneider and Brando, who have since died, later claimed that they felt violated and humiliated by Bertolucci.
As Elle reports, a 2013 video of the Italian director, whom younger audiences will recognize from his work on Stealing Beauty and The Dreamers, has surfaced. The video shows Bertolucci admitting that the scene in which Brando's character, Paul, rapes Schneider's Jeanne, using a stick of butter as a lubricant, was planned without the actress' knowledge or consent. According to the director, he and Brando came up with the idea without involving Schneider.
"The sequence of the butter is an idea that I had with Marlon in the morning before shooting," he said during an event at Paris' La Cinémathèque Française. Bertolucci explained that he wanted her "reaction as a girl, not as an actress." In other words, he wanted her to actually experience the rape.
"I wanted her to react humiliated," he continued. "I think she hated me and also Marlon, because we didn't tell her...to obtain something, I think you have to be completely free. I didn't want Maria to act her humiliation, her rage, I wanted her to Maria to feel...the rage and humiliation. Then, she hated me for all of her life."
Though he offered that he felt bad about the decision "in a way," he expressed no regret.
In a 2006 interview, Schneider said she "cried real tears" during the scene. She also claimed that her co-star Brando complained of feeling "raped and manipulated" by Bertolucci, conveniently glossing over his role in Schneider's sexual assault. The actor died in 2004, followed by Schneider in 2011. Bertolucci, meanwhile, is still alive. His latest film, Me and You, was released in 2012.
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