Bernardo Bertolucci was born in Parma Italy on March 16th, 1941, His Father Atilio Bertolucci was a well thought of poet. Bertolucci spent much of his childhood in the beautiful countryside that surrounded Parma and was surrounded by a close and loving family environment. Many would say that he had a somewhat privileged upbringing which allowed the young man to focus more upon the artistic side of things, it was when he was a teenager that he first began to show an interest in films and at one time used to make movies on a 16mm camera that he had borrowed from a friend. In 1956 Bertolucci made two short films, MORTE DI UN MAIALE and LA TELEFERICA the latter being about a group of children that had become lost in a wood. In the late 1950’s his family decided to move to Rome, where Bernardo started to study literature hoping to continue in his Fathers footsteps.
But his passion for film making was always his first love and in 1961 he decided to cease his studies and went to work with Piero Pasolini on ACCATTONE as an assistant director. Bertolucci was in his element working with Pasolini and he not only had much respect for the film maker but the two became friends. Things began to move quickly career wise in the early 1960’ with Bertolucci having his first book IN SEARCH OF MYSTERY published and winning an award for it. It was also at this time that he got his break into directing in his own right, this was for mainly due to the help and interest of Tonino Cervi, who assisted Bertolucci to make his debut on THE GRIM REAPER, this was a film that was based upon a story by Pasolini and one which should have originally been directed by Pasolini also. In 1964 the director worked on BEFORE THE REVOLUTION and we see within this movie many of the trademarks, thoughts and messages that would manifest themselves in future projects.
The film was successful at that years Canne film festival and alerted many to Bertolucci’s talent behind the camera. It also was at this time that he began work on the ideas that would eventually form the script for Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. At just 21 Bertolucci had become an in-demand director, going on to make movies such as PARTNER and AMORE RABBIA in 1968. But it was not realy until THE CONFORMIST was released that the director was fully accepted within the film making fraternity and was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay.
It was in 1972 that the director really hit the spotlight with his steamy and controversial film THE LAST TANGO IN PARIS. Which starred the iconic American actor Marlon Brando, in a tale about a widower who wanted to change his somewhat drab life by having a sensual relationship with a young French girl, the film caused outcry and in Italy was withdrawn from cinema’s and Bertolucci was charged with obscenity and a display of lewd behaviour and was not allowed to vote or have any rights as an Italian citizen for five years.
Fifteen years later LAST TANGO IN PARIS was given the green light to be screened in Italy and copies that had been impounded and stored at The National Film Library were eventually made available. These however were heavily censored, and it was only thanks to copies of the movie that were held in foreign libraries that we finally got to see Bertolucci’s film as the director had intended on DVD. In my opinion LAST TANGO IN PARIS is possible one of the most successful Italian made movies, but this is probably due to much of the hype and notoriety that it generated whilst being banned. It earned Bertolucci a well-deserved Oscar nomination for best director. In 1976 the director stepped into the epic and historic genre with his film 1900. Which was major motion picture that looked at a post war Italy and many of the political and social aspects of the country at that time.
Bertolucci had collaborated with composer Ennio Morricone from an early stage of his career and it was Morricone that the director turned to create the soundtrack for this sprawling classic. Morricone did not disappoint and fashioned a score of a monumental scale that was filled with luscious themes and intimate and fragile leitmotivs, Bertolucci thought that the theme that Morricone had written could have easily served as the National Anthem for Italy.
The film looked at life from two different prospective’ s, two young boys from different classes forming the focus of the story. It looked at their lives, struggles, loves, hopes and achievements over a span of 45 years. The film had an impressive cast including, Burt Lancaster, Robert de Niro, Donald Sutherland and Gerard Deardiue. However, the movie had something of a luke warm reception outside of Italy and only later did it achieve the status it so deserves. The 1970’s were coming to an end and the director was to make two movies that were not that well received by critics and cinema goers alike, TRAGEDY OF A RIDICULOUS MAN and THE MOON, were sadly flops at the box office internationally and it was not until 1987, with his colourful and beautifully shot epic THE LAST EMPORER did we see Bertolucci make a comeback, winning nine academy awards including best director and best picture THE LAST EMPORER was a superb motion picture, that also swept the board at the David di Donatello awards also winning nine gongs.
The film was festooned with awards and nominations and is still a wonderful motion picture, not loosing any of its power or drama.
The film was an account of the life of China’s last Emperor, Pu Yi and charted his life from the early days of his childhood through to the end of his days which were spent as a gardener in a post-Revolutionary China. Bertolucci is one of the worlds most respected film makers his visions and messages trickling down to audiences in cinema’s via his images on the silver screen, the director went onto create beautiful and gracious movies in the form of THE LITTLE BUDDAH, SHELTERING SKY, STEALING BEAUTY, BESEIGED and THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE.