Oscar Directors: Bertolucci, Bernardo–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

Research in Progress (March 1, 2021)

Bernardo Bertolucci Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social Class: upper-middle; mother, teacher; father poet and art historian

Nationality: Italian (for English)

Race/Class/Religion: Atheist

Education: University of Rome, 1958 to 1961; wanted to be poet, but dropped out

Training: began writing at age 15; assistant director to Pasolini.

First Film: La commare secca, 1962; aged 22

Breakthrough: Before the Revolution, 1964; 24

Turning Point/Success: The Conformist, 1970; aged 29

First Oscar Nomination: Last Tango in Paris, 1973; aged 33

Gap between First Film and First Nom: 11 years

Other Nominations:

Gap between First Nom and Win: 14 years (25 years after his debut)

Oscar Awards: Last Emperor, 1987; aged 47

Genre (specialties):

Disaster: 1900, 1976

Collaborators: Claire Peploe

Last Film: You and I, 2013; aged


Career Output:

Career Span:

Marriage: screenwriter Claire Peploe



Death: 77 (in 2018)

Bernardo Bertolucci (March 16, 1941–November 26, 2018) was an Italian director and screenwriter, whose films include The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, 1900, The Last Emperor (for which he won the Best Director and the Best Adapted Screenplay), The Sheltering Sky, Little Buddha, Stealing Beauty and The Dreamers.

In recognition of his work, he was presented with the inaugural Honorary Palme d’Or Award at the opening ceremony of the 2011 Cannes Film Fest.

From 1979 until his death in 2018, he was married to screenwriter Clare Peploe.

Bertolucci was born in the Italian city of Parma, in the region of Emilia-Romagna. He was the elder son of Ninetta (Giovanardi), a teacher, and Attilio Bertolucci, who was a poet, a reputed art historian, anthologist and film critic. His mother was born in Australia, to an Italian father and an Irish mother.

Having been raised in an artistic environment, Bertolucci began writing at the age of 15, and soon after received several prestigious literary prizes including the Premio Viareggio for his first book. His father’s background helped his career: the elder Bertolucci helped the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini publish his first novel, and Pasolini reciprocated by hiring Bertolucci as assistant in Rome on Accattone (1961).

Bertolucci had one brother, theatre director and playwright Giuseppe (1947–2012). His cousin was the film producer Giovanni Bertolucci (1940–2005), with whom he worked on a number of films.

Bertolucci initially wished to become a poet like his father.  He attended the Faculty of Modern Literature of the University of Rome from 1958 to 1961, where his film career as an assistant director to Pasolini began. Shortly after, Bertolucci left the University without graduating.

In 1962, at the age of 22, he directed his first feature, produced by Tonino Cervi with a screenplay by Pasolini, called La commare secca (1962). The film is a murder mystery, following a prostitute’s homicide. Bertolucci uses flashbacks to piece together the crime and the person who committed it.

He followed it with the acclaimed feature, Before the Revolution (Prima della rivoluzione, 1964).

The boom of Italian cinema, which gave Bertolucci his start, slowed in the 1970s as directors were forced to co-produce their films with American, Swedish, French, and German companies and actors due to the effects of the global economic recession on the Italian film industry.

Bertolucci caused controversy in 1972 with the film Last Tango in Paris, starring Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Jean-Pierre Léaud and Massimo Girotti. The film presents Brando’s character, Paul, as he copes with his wife’s suicide by emotionally and physically dominating a young woman, Jeane (Schneider). The depictions of Schneider, then 19, were regarded as exploitative.

In one scene, Paul anally rapes Jeane using butter as lubricant. The use of butter was not in the script; Bertolucci and Brando had discussed it, but they did not tell Schneider. She said in 2007 that she had cried “real tears” during the scene and had felt humiliated and “a little raped”. In 2013 Bertolucci said that he had withheld the information from Schneider to generate real “reaction of frustration and rage”. Brando alleged that Bertolucci had wanted the characters to have real sex, but Brando and Schneider both said it was simulated. In 2016 Bertolucci released a statement where he clarified that Schneider had known of the violence to be depicted in the scene, but had not been told about the butter.

After the scandal of the film’s release, Schneider became a drug addict and suicidal. She later became a women’s rights advocate, fighting for more female directors, more respect for female actors and better representation of women in film and media. Criminal proceedings were brought against Bertolucci in Italy for the rape scene; the film was sequestered by the censorship commission and all copies ordered destroyed. An Italian court revoked Bertolucci’s civil rights for five years and gave him a four-month suspended prison sentence. In 1978 the Appeals Court of Bologna ordered three copies of the film to be preserved in the national film library, with stipulation that they could not be viewed, until Bertolucci was later able to re-submit it for general distribution with no cuts.

Bertolucci increased his fame with his next few films, from 1900 (1976), an epic depiction of the struggles of farmers in Emilia-Romagna from the beginning of the 20th century up to World War II with an international cast (Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu, Donald Sutherland, Sterling Hayden, Burt Lancaster, Dominique Sanda) to La Luna, set in Rome and in Emilia-Romagna, in which Bertolucci deals with the issue of drugs and incest, and finally La tragedia di un uomo ridicolo (1981), with Ugo Tognazzi.

He then wrote two screenplays based on Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest. He hoped this would be his first film set in America, but nothing came of it.

In 1987, Bertolucci directed the epic The Last Emperor, a biopic telling the life story of Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the last Emperor of China. The film was independently produced by British producer Jeremy Thomas, with whom Bertolucci worked almost from then on. The film was independently financed and 3 years in the making. Bertolucci, who co-wrote the film with Mark Peploe, won the Best Director Oscar. The film uses Puyi’s life as a mirror that reflects China’s passage from feudalism through revolution to its current state.

At the 60th Academy Awards, The Last Emperor won all 9 Oscars for which it was nominated: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Music, Original Score and Best Sound.

The Last Emperor was the first feature ever authorized by the government of the People’s Republic of China to film in the Forbidden City. Bertolucci had proposed the film to the Chinese government as one of two possible projects. The other film was La Condition Humaine by André Malraux. The Chinese government preferred The Last Emperor.

After The Last Emperor, The Sheltering Sky and Little Buddha, Bertolucci returned to Italy to film, and to revisit old themes, with varying results from both critics and the public. He filmed Stealing Beauty in 1996, then The Dreamers in 2003, about the political passions and sexual revolutions of two siblings in Paris in 1968.

In 2007, Berrolucci received the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Fest for his life’s work, and in 2011 he also received the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Fest.

In 2012, his final film, Me and You was screened out of competition at the 2012 Cannes Film Fest and was released early in 2013 in the UK. The film is an adaptation of Niccolò Ammaniti’s young-adult’s book Me and You. The screenplay for the movie was written by Bertolucci, Umberto Contarello and Niccolò Ammaniti. Bertolucci originally intended to shoot the film in 3D but was forced to abandon this plan due to cost.

Bertolucci appeared on the Radio Four program Start the Week on 22 April 2013, and on Front Row on 29 April 2013, where he chose La Dolce Vita, a film directed by Federico Fellini, for the “Cultural Exchange”.

In the spring of 2018, in an interview with the Italian Vanity Fair, Bertolucci said that he was preparing a new film. He stated, “The theme will be love, let’s call it that. In reality, the theme is communication and therefore also incommunicability. The favorite subject of Antonioni and the condition I found myself facing when I moved on from my films for the few, those of the sixties, to a broader cinema ready to meet a large audience.”

Bertolucci wrote many screenplays, both for his own films and for films directed by others, two of which he also produced.

He was an actor in the film Golem: The Spirit of Exile, directed by Amos Gitai in 1992.

Bertolucci was an atheist.

Bertolucci’s films are often political. He was a professed Marxist and, like Luchino Visconti, who similarly employed many foreign artists during the late 1960s, Bertolucci used his films to express his political views; hence they are often autobiographical as well as highly controversial. His political films were preceded by others re-evaluating history. The Conformist (1970) criticized Fascist ideology, touched upon the relationship between nationhood and nationalism, as well as issues of popular taste and collective memory, all amid an international plot by Benito Mussolini to assassinate a politically active leftist professor of philosophy in Paris. 1900 also analyses the struggle of Left and Right.

On September 27, 2009, Bertolucci was one of the signatories of appeal to the Swiss government to release Roman Polanski, who was being held awaiting extradition to the US.

On Twitter on April 24, 2015, Bertolucci participated in #whomademyclothes, Fashion Revolution’s anti-sweatshop campaign commemorating the 2013 Savar building collapse, the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry.

Bertolucci advocated the practice of Transcendental Meditation: “We want to evoke the present and it is difficult to do it all together, we can only meditate , as in transcendental meditation. One of the most powerful experiences. Either you meditate or watch a good movie, then the two things start to touch … “.

Bertolucci died of lung cancer in Rome on November 26, 2018, at the age of 77.

Cinematographic awards

1971: National Society of Film Critics Award for best director
1973: Nastro d’Argento for Best Director
1987: Academy Award for Best Director
1987: Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
1987: Golden Globe Award for Best Director
1987: Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay
1987: David di Donatello for Best Director
1987: David di Donatello for Best Script
1987: Nastro d’Argento for Best Director
1987: Directors Guild of America Award for best director
1997: Honorable Mention at the Locarno International Film Festival
1997: Award special visual sensitivity in directing at the Camerimage
1997: Award for collaborating director – director of photography (Vittorio Storaro) at Camerimage
1998: Recognition for free expression by the National Board of Review
2007: Golden Lion for his career at the Venice Film Festival
2011: Honorary Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival