'Bertolucci on Bertolucci' Review: Doc Captures

This expertly edited profile features Bernardo Bertolucci through the decades, capturing the personality along with the career.

Hundreds of hours of interview footage are condensed into a satisfying and enriching repast in Luca Guadagnino and Walter Fasano’s “Bertolucci on Bertolucci.” Valuable for devotees and newcomers alike, this expertly edited profile features the maestro through the decades speaking about his work, philosophies and influences, conveying the man’s deep intelligence and profound self-reflection. Arranged to keep themes and chronologies in balance, the docu captures the personality along with the career, making it a likely fave with those who know the director as friend and mentor. Fests and ancillary will see a steady flow of traffic.

There’s no new footage here, yet Guadagnino and ace editor Fasano avoid the stolidity of a strictly linear approach, and while the docu more or less moves in order from film to film, the interviews themselves jump decades (and languages), highlighting thematic consistencies and maturing viewpoints.  At the start Bertolucci jokes that he likes to think of himself as a small underground filmmaker who infiltrated commercial cinema to create disorder; it’s probably more accurate to say commercial cinema was opening itself up to his type of independent perspective just when he was ready for bigger budgets.

Bertolucci speaks of his early years, his beginnings as a poet and his collaboration with Pasolini (more about this partnership would be welcome). He talks of wanting to become a director after seeing “La dolce vita,” and of appreciating Rossellini thanks to Cahiers du cinema. The influence of French film theory is strong throughout the earlier interviews, combined with a tempered brand of pan-European leftism that energized most helmers of his generation; he also briefly delves into his rupture with Godard over the latter’s indefensible Maoism.

Appropriate space is given to “Last Tango in Paris” — the problems with censorship and casting, the troubles he had with Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider — but his self-awareness, at least in retrospect, keeps his recollections from descending into ungenerous complaints. This ability to dissect his own behavior forms a major theme in the docu, thanks in part to Bertolucci’s devotion to psychoanalysis, a passion shared as well by Guadagnino: The Sigmund Freud Museum is credited as one of the pic’s sponsors, and a major interview was done by analyst Andrea Sabbadini.

Given this angle, it’s unsurprising that a fair amount of time is allocated to the director’s relationship with his father, Attilio, a respected poet and sometime film critic for the local Parma newspaper. Less time is dedicated to his mother, though chats about “La luna” don’t need to overstate the obvious. Chronologically, the last movie discussed is the 2012 title “Me and You.”

Only occasionally are there glimpses of the helmer on set; it would be invaluable to have a companion piece to “Bertolucci on Bertolucci” consisting solely of footage with collaborators discussing the master’s work and style. There’s a tantalizing comment in which he expresses his love for musicals, where all is possible cinematically; what a pity Bertolucci never dipped his toe in the genre. He speaks effortlessly in Italian, French and English.

Venice Film Review: 'Bertolucci on Bertolucci'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Venice Classics), Aug. 31, 2013. Running time: 107 MIN.

Production

(Documentary — Italy) A Frenesy Film Co. production in association with Kimerafilm. Produced by Luca Guadagnino. Executive producer, Sila Berruti, Simone Isola.

Crew

Directed by Luca Guadagnino, Walter Fasano. Written by Fasano. Camera (color/B&W); editor, Fasano; sound, Davide Favargiotti.

With

Bernardo Bertolucci. (Italian, French, English dialogue)

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