A never-ending standing ovation at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari welcomed Bernando Bertolucci, special guest at the Bif&st where he held a masterclass and received the Federico Fellini Platinum Award.
The treatre was fully booked for the event moderated by David Grieco and to be followed by the screening of one of Bertolucci’s masterpieces, The Spider’s Stratagem. In the words of Bertolucci: “This film hasn’t been screened in a while. It was made for television, but the idea was very cinematic, to the extent that we shot it in color despite that fact that all TVs in 1970 were still in black and white.”
Bertolucci’s attendance at the Bif&st is also linked to the international premiere of Last Tango in Paris, restored by the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia under the advice of Vittorio Storaro for cinematography and Federico Savina for the sound. When the film was made in 1972, the scandal was huge enough to have the prints confiscated and the negative burnt down. The restored film will be released in theatres from May 21 in 120 copies, some of them presenting the original version that has never been shown before in Italy.
Regarding the hardships surrounding the film, that was shot in Paris with Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, the director states: “Producer Alberto Grimaldi, Marlon Brando and I were sentenced to two months in prison, but we never went to jail as we didn’t have a criminal record. However, some time later, I went to request my voting card at the civil registry and there I found out that, among the supplementary penalties, there was also a five-year suspension of the civil rights, so I couldn’t vote. That hurt me deeply.”
On the relationship with Marlon Brando: “I chose him after the refusals of Jean-Louis Trintignant, who didn’t want to play naked; Jean Paul Belmondo, who considered it pornographic; and Alain Delon, who also wanted to be the producer, but that would have been an unacceptable conflict of interest for me. During a dinner in Piazza Navona, someone suggested Brando. We got in contact with him and made him come to Paris for two or three days. Our first meeting was in a hotel, I was very intimidated but I managed to pitch the story in one and half minute, speaking in my debatable English. He remained silent, looking down. Then he told me he was just trying to see when I would have stop beating my feet under the strain! I showed him The Conformist, he liked it and asked me to move to Los Angeles for one month to discuss the project with calm. When I got there, he picked me up at the hotel and took me to his place in Mulholland Drive. I went there every day to talk about anything but Last Tango. But I was happy because I understood that he wasn’t biased neither towards me nor the film.”
Bertolucci shared his impressions on the restoration: “I am very happy, it’s a beautiful restoration, shiny, only sprinkled by a thin veil which makes it a bit vintage, but after all these years that’s just fair. I thought that, if I had to make it again, I would have shortened the scenes with Maria Schneider and Jean-Pierre Leaud, which sometimes are maybe useless, but I wanted the audience to fell, here and there, nostalgia for Marlon Brando. I am looking forward to the day in which the Cineteca Nazionale, besides the films, will be able to restore the directors as well!”
On his relationship with the actors: “As for the actors, I don’t think alike Hitchcock, who considered them as cattle, although I guess he used to tell this just to keep his myth alive. If they’re just cattle, then it’s precious cattle! I need to love someone to go closer to him with the camera and I want that, during the shooting, the actors could take part in the creative process. Both actors and actresses.”
Then a scathing attack: “I never accepted impositions by producers on the choice of the cast, as Ridley Scott did when he agreed on deleting all the scenes played by Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World. When I got to know this, I sent a message to his editor Pietro Scalia so that he could tell Scott on my behalf the he should be ashamed. And right after I felt like making a film with Kevin Spacey!”
Another masterpiece discussed during the masterclass is The Last Emperor, which won 9 Oscars in 1988. “I am very proud I managed to take a big international troupe to the then-inaccessible Forbidden City. The film was a bet, a big-budget film with unknown actors, mostly Chinese besides Peter O’Toole. Rai seemed interested in producing it but then they said: ‘will the audience be able to distinguish one Chinese from the other on the small screen?’ Luckily producer Jeremy Thomas managed to finance the film.” On the night of the Oscars: “It was all extraordinary, it was like a fun fair, a circus in which all my collaborators were taking part too, going on stage to receive awards one after the other. We almost couldn’t believe it.”
On his working method, Bertolucci recalls what Jean Renoir told him once. A big fan of the French director, Bertolucci went to visit him in Los Angeles when the great filmmaker was already 80: “At the end of our meeting he told me: ‘remind to always leave the doors open on the set, because you never know who could get in.’ To me, that’s the beauty of cinema, letting a breath of real life pass through is what helps my creativity, and that of my collaborators. When I had the chance to shoot in Hollywood, I realized that the Americans tend to follow the storyboard constantly. I understand this could help the production efficiency, but I like not to know what I’m doing.”
How important was the ’68 in the formation and in the art of Bernardo Bertolucci? “I was already a grown up, I looked at it from the outside, but I really liked witnessing what was happening in Italy and in France, I loved to think that this could change the world. Rethinking about it today, I realize that that period freed certain energies in me. I disentangled from a kind of cinema that was a sort of private self-confession, and moved to one that was more open to the audience, more open to debate, as it was the case with Last Tango in Paris. And I also think that in the ’68 we can find the seed of the #Metoo movement, which I totally agree with.”