By John H. Foote

One of the World cinema’s greatest filmmakers, Italian Director Bernardo Bertolucci has died.

Bertolucci won the Academy Award for Best Director for his exquisite biography of Pu Yi in The Last Emperor (1987). China’s last Emperor before a communist state overthrew the Imperialist government, the film traces the life of this tragic character whose life is both ironic and tragic. The film won all nine Academy Awards it was nominated for.

Bertolucci first came to prominence with The Conformist (1971) but it was Last Tango in Paris (1973) that rocketed him to the world stage in cinema. Stunning in its execution, bold in its portrayal of sexuality, and containing an astonishing, almost entirely improvised performance from Marlon Brando, the film absolutely stunned film critics with its staggering realism. Brando was nominated for Best Actor, Bertolucci for Best Director, each well deserved for a film that is without question a soaring work of art.

His epic 1900 (1977) received mixed reviews, while Luna (1979) a haunting film about an incestuous relationship between mother and son ran into trouble with the censors. The film contains a daring performance from the great Jill Clayburgh that was deserving of Oscar attention.

In the years after winning his Academy Award for The Last Emperor he continued to work on a grand scale, The Sheltering Sky (1990) magnificent in scope and again anchored by a great Debra Winger performance. However, his war with Miramax and Harvey Weinstein deeply hurt him, and would begin his withdrawal from cinema.

Little Buddha (1993) was a huge, opulent film, beautifully shot, but Weinstein protested the length and refused to release the film. Weinstein even had one of his in-house editors cut a version of the film to show the director, who, horrified fled the meeting. Later, after much thought, he realized the film would never come out without the cuts, so he gave in and took out more than Weinstein wanted. It did not matter, the film flopped. The casting of Keanu Reeves could not have helped.

The Dreamers (2003) was his last film of note, an interesting, highly sexual study of three friends coping with life.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the director in 2003 and was greeted with a warm handshake and his undivided attention. For nearly an hour we chatted and when it was time to go, he embraced me, kissing each cheek. “You and I, are kindred spirits in our love of cinema” he told me.

Rest well sir. In movies you are immortal. Your work is forever.

Leave a comment