Bernardo Bertolucci Responds to ‘Last Tango in Paris’ Backlash Over Rape Scene

Last Tango in Paris backlash
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ROME — Reacting to outrage over reports he and Marlon Brando conspired against actress Maria Schneider while filming a notorious rape scene in “Last Tango in Paris,” Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci said Monday that the outcry was based on a “ridiculous misunderstanding” of what actually happened.

In Monday’s statement, issued in Italian, Bertolucci said: “I would like, for the last time, to clear up a ridiculous misunderstanding that continues to generate press reports about ‘Last Tango in Paris’ around the world.”

“Several years ago at the Cinemathèque Francaise someone asked me for details on the famous “butter scene.

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“I specified, but perhaps I was not clear, that I decided with Marlon Brando not to inform Maria that we would have used butter,” he noted. “We wanted her spontaneous reaction to that improper use [of the butter]. That is where the misunderstanding lies.

“Somebody thought, and thinks, that Maria had not been informed about the violence on her. That is false!”

Bertolucci added that “Maria knew everything because she had read the script, where it was all described. The only novelty was the idea of the butter.

“And that, as I learned many years later, offended Maria. Not the violence that she is subjected to in the scene, which was written in the screenplay,” Bertolucci added.

Reports over the weekend centered on a resurfaced video of a 2013 masterclass given by Bertolucci in Paris. In the video, the Oscar-winning auteur talks about the scene in his 1972 film in which Brando’s character uses a stick of butter as a lubricant to simulate sex with Schneider, who was 19 at the time. “I had been, in a way, horrible to Maria because I didn’t tell her what was going on,” Bertolucci says on the tape.

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Several celebrities reacted angrily to Bertolucci’s comments, including actress Jessica Chastain, who called the scene a planned sexual attack on a 19-year-old young woman. “I feel sick,” Chastain tweeted. Others called for Bertolucci to be stripped of his awards.

Schneider died in 2011, at age 58, reportedly of cancer.

Before her death, she had spoken out about the scene, including in an interview with the Daily Mail in which she said, “I felt humiliated and, to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.”

In an interview with Italian news agency ANSA when Schneider died, Bertolucci said: “Her death came too soon, before I could tenderly hug her again, tell her that I felt close to her like the first day, and at least once, say I was sorry.”

“The strong creative rapport we had during the ‘Last Tango’ shoot had been poisoned with the passing of time,” he added to ANSA.

“Maria accused me of having robbed her of her youth and only today I wonder whether there wasn’t some truth to that.

“In truth she was too young to sustain the impact with the unpredictable and brutal success of that film.”

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  1. Echo says:

    i thought it was the worst movie ever and 44yrs later it’s still the worst movie ever!!! the whole thing sucked big time. i walked out before it was over. what a waste of money!!!

  2. Please can u see if Mr.B.can get my comment..
    MR.B.I LOVE LAST TANGO IN PARIS…i dont care if it were butter or lube.THE SCEEN WAS GREAT.AND MARIA LIVED UP TO HER PART!!!!!!!! i cant tell u how many times ive watch your movie in the last 6 months..at least 2 to 3 times a week.theres just sometg.about it thats in my past i can relate too but stll cant pinpoint it.Paul was great as usual….maybe it was the year back then?? And of course GATOS SAX.THE SEXIEST MUSIC IVE HEARD IN A MOVIE YES.A GREAT LOSS TO THE MUSIC WORLD.I WOULD HOPE SOMEDAY TO MEET YOU.AND TELL YOU IN PERSON WHAT A GREAT MOVIE IT IS….. ..GOD BLESS.. STAY WELL..MY FAMILY IS IN NOLA ITALY.NAPOLI…..XOXO…..

  3. Bry says:

    Outside of any discussion about generally not wanting to condone or promote rape culture, what Chastain is probably reacting to is the fact that Bertolucci stated that he didn’t want Maria to act outraged and humiliated in the scene, but instead, actually feel outrage and humiliation.

    In the 2013 Cinémathèque Française interview he stated: “To make movies is sometimes to obtain something — I think that you have to be completely free — I didn’t want Maria to act humiliation, her rage. I wanted Maria to feel, not to act, the rage and the humiliation.”

    After successfully auditioning for a role, an actor comes to set prepared to act. They read the script and make certain decisions about the artistic expressions they plan to make using the instrument of their own body to realize the character as written.

    But any director worth his salt knows that there are things an actor can’t see about their own performance. Small, subtle things that tip an audience off to the fact that what they’re seeing is a person acting on screen instead of the actual character in front of the camera.

    For this reason, a director must have complete liberty to recontextualize the situation in which the actor finds themselves during the shooting of the film.

    To make this relationship to work, the actor has to place their trust in the director to keep them safe from any real danger and the director has to place trust in the actor to take risks and willingly leave their comfort zone.

    Maybe Maria felt that Bertolucci violated that trust when he didn’t rely entirely on her instincts as an actor in the scene. In the Cinémathèque Française interview he stated that he felt guilty about it, but had no regrets about shooting it the way he did.

    What probably needs to happen now to close this superannuated wound is for the public to accord Maria posthumous recognition of her extraordinary level of talent, what she achieved artistically and how she generously gave of herself to advance the language of film.

  4. Dissin' Terry says:

    Watch the sociopath try and talk his way out of it. If there’s a Hell, he’ll be a cookin’.

  5. BK says:

    There was not a moment or real sex anywhere in Last Tango in Paris. People are such idiots. There was no “rape” – there was simulated sex (and not very simulated at that if you actually watch the damn movie), you know, just like the simulated sex in hundreds upon hundreds of movies made in Hollywood, some of which have involved simulating sexual rape. While I’m sure filming those kinds of scenes is always harrowing for the actors, no one is really getting raped and Jessica Chastain should apologize for her jumping to conclusions that were completely erroneous.

    • Tamerine says:

      Agreed. You would think a professional actor like Jessica Chastain would be familiar with the concept of a simulated sex scene. In other words, ACTING. Instead she reacted in a knee-jerk fashion due to her misunderstanding of what Bertolucci actually said. Maybe some actors just aren’t capable of saying anything intelligent unless a good writer writes their lines. I doubt she will admit her mistake and apologize. She comes across as a rich, spoilt celebrity who thinks the world revolves around her.

  6. mama bear says:

    The statute of limitations is over and she’s dead. Hollywood is full of Paedophiles. The cat’s out of the bag.

  7. Ryand says:

    What does the age “19” have to do with anything? The age of consent in Europe is 15. In societies that allow advancement of the mind, unlike the United States, a person of 19 years of age is well advanced beyond simple notions of ‘adulthood’ and ‘physical development.’ Such arbitrary trappings are sensationalist and not material to an adult person having made the choice to engage in the filming of a motion picture which depicts ‘strong sexual content’ as the core of its storyline, which was obviously well disclosed to the actress. Any regret after the fact is of no fault to the filmmakers.

    • Peter says:

      Age of consent in “Europe.” There are 51 countries in Europe and 27 in the European Union. The age of consent varies hugely.

  8. Having worked with and having starred in Bertolucci’s controversial film “Luna,” Bernardo was nothing short of brilliant. Yes, Bernardo knows how to grab/steal/take everything an actor can give (including myself AND admittedly Brando) to get the performances/reactions. Never did I ever feel threatened. Manipulated, sure, but boy did he get the reactions and performance. At the end of “Luna” actor Tomas Milian slaps “Joe” across the face. During filming, Tomas really did slap me, and Bernardo got his reaction. That’s what a good director does when he’s not getting the reaction he/she are looking for. Fincher does 100 takes until he gets what he wants. Maria was young at the time (19?) as was I (15-16 at the time of shooting). We were both vulnerable and as ANY good director would do, he exploited that. We knew what we were getting into. Bernardo Bertolucci is one of cinema’s great masters, this just seems like a NY Post type of “journalism” created simply to spark controversy.

    • calvin2004 says:

      A good director shouldn’t need to trick or take advantage of the actors he is working with. He shouldn’t exploit them or abuse them or try to break them in order to justify his artistic vision.

      • Well, if a director predates on the young and vulnerable to manipulate and abuse them, he should take all the heat he gets because of it

      • Robert Black says:

        Calvin that’s exactly what a director does.

      • Dave J. says:

        Rape doesn’t have to be in a form of a stick of butter but it can be used on sorts of ways. If I can get a dollar for every kind of abuse the director does, I’d be a millionaire by now.

  9. LV Media says:

    Back-pedaling…

  10. Ugh says:

    Puh-leeeeze…

  11. cinema fan says:

    The rumor was that they were really having sex, right? Has that been confirmed or refuted at any time?

    • Elyah Ducos says:

      Its just because American audience and people nowadays don’t get what Bertolluci and Schneider were saying in interviews. And those interviews are cut, or badly translated. I’m french, Schneider was french and I followed her work. She never NEVER said it was a real sex scene. She never said it was a rape. She said she felt a little rape b/c of the way people during all her carreer linked her to this scene. And she didn’t know about the butter detail. The press and the media, being stupid, didnt focus on this beautiful movie, on its content. They just focused on this one scene, making it a “shoker”. While other scenes in this movie could be seen as much more violent. Bertolluci was known for using improv. But the scene was in the script. He felt bad because he had the idea to add the butter detail, and because of this idea the press went crazy about the scene and it tanked Schneider’s career. Because he cared, he went out of his way to say he felt horrible about the whole thing. He didn’t have to. Hitchcock never did that, neither Kubrick. Both were known to trick their actress into “reactions”. The problem is that, for a french speaking audience or even for european the term “rape” is not to be taken litterally. And in the 80’s, there wasnt so much focus on an actor’s rights, industry standards, etc… Its a bad mix of click bait headlines, anachronism, and bad translation.

    • SK says:

      That long-lasting rumas was denied by Maria Schneider herself in 2007, in an interview to the Daily Mail.

      • Dave J. says:

        Isn’t that what movie does, it’s supposed to humiliate both the actors as well as the director making them. I’m not a huge fan of Bertoluci films but this is no surprise at all.

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