Bernardo Bertolucci 1940–
Italian poet and filmmaker.
In Bertolucci's films there is constant concern with the bourgeois life-style and its anaesthetic, smothering effect on the characters's potential. Some critics believe this is a response to his own childhood, although Bertolucci himself recalls this time fondly. Raised in the luxuries of an upper middle-class family, Bertolucci was encouraged intellectually. His father was a famous poet and film critic. Accompanying him in his frequent visits to the theater, the young Bertolucci often saw two or three films a day. His first interest, however, was poetry. A collection of his poems, published while he was still an undergraduate, won the Prix Viareggio. But in 1961, when he began to work as an assistant to Pier Paolo Pasolini on Accattone!, he stopped writing poetry. In filmmaking he found his primary mode of expression. Now he sees each of his films as a poem, or an attempt at poetry.
Bertolucci made his first feature at the age of twenty. And by the time Before the Revolution was released in 1964, his reputation was established. Many critics considered this film a brilliant piece of work from such a young and inexperienced artist. Like most of his later films, it concentrates on the hero's struggle against his middle-class background and his eventual submission to its tenets. Whether they are political, social, or psychological, Bertolucci's films are always lyrical. He has called them poetry, critics have called them choreography. And, indeed, dance imagery abounds. So do lush coloration and visual references to paintings. His work is often called beautiful. Critical response to other aspects has been mixed. He is not favorably received in Italy, by either critics or his fellow filmmakers.
Bertolucci's best known and most controversial film is Last Tango in Paris. In an early, laudatory review, Pauline Kael termed the film a landmark in movie history, comparable to the importance of Le Sacre du Printemps in music history. Other critics, equally impassioned, have termed the film pornographic for its explicit, often brutal, eroticism.
Probably one of the most important aspects of the film is the manner in which it took form. Much of the script, and therefore the characterization, was improvised. This flexible, organic quality is part of Bertolucci's cinematic vision. In an interview during the filming of 1900, he said: "All the films I have made seemed desperately autobiographical to me,… but the autobiographical dimension has been completely decanted and consumed in the act of becoming film…. The film exists for itself." On the same subject, he has also said: "Films are animal events." Some critics and viewers, who respond negatively to the violence and explicitness of his work, would probably agree.