Bertolucci and a missing sense of wit

This piece is from today’s Guardian — wherein Bernardo Bertolucci responds to outrage over a 2013 interview that has been flying around the social mediascape for the past few days, and in which he describes how he and Marlon Brando worked out the famous anal rape scene with Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris:

Italian men are so funny when they lie: ridiculousness or preposterousness doesn’t even slow them down. I saw this interview and it was clear he was talking about more than just “the butter” — for why would Bertolucci feel he needs Schneider’s most genuine reaction “as a girl rather than as an actress” merely to the butter? It’s an absurd claim and it is so precisely the kind of lie Italian men come up with when frozen in the headlights of accusation that it made me laugh.

Bertolucci’s declaration, which he made in the televised interview, that he wanted Schneider’s “genuine” reaction, demonstrates after a lifetime in film either that he knows nothing of acting or that he thought she was no good and was there mostly for her tits. I’ve never liked Bertolucci as a director — he is a lugubrious filmmaker, and the only picture of his that I experienced sustained pleasure in watching was the one written by Susan Minot, called Stealing Beauty, with Liv Tyler and the wonderful Sinéad Cusack and Jeremy Irons and a bunch of other good actors. I attribute every moment of lightness and grace in that film to Minot, to the actors, and to the Tuscan light, because Bertolucci is incapable of lightness or grace in every other picture of his that I’ve seen. There is a telling set of scenes in THE DREAMER when the three young people hanging out (and acting oddly millennial) in Paris in ’68 together reënact a moment from Godard’s Bande à part. Just after, Bertolucci drops in a couple of quick cuts from the actual Godard movie and in the first nano-second that the Godard film is on screen instead of Bertolucci’s you feel an immediate lift, a relief. What you realize is that in Godard you see a filmmaker of greater intelligence and the intelligence expresses itself most obviously and specifically in his having a sense of humor, which Bertolucci simply does not. It takes only a few seconds to perceive this. 

But I still love Brando. No Matter What.

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