File historian Jean Gili knew the director of "1900" and "Last Emperor", who died November 26, 2018 at the age of 77 years. He explains what Bernardo Bertolucci represented for the Italians, his relationship with Pasolini, and what he thought about the controversy surrounding "Last Tango in Paris".
Jean Gili, former film critic (especially for the review positive) and historian "Specialist in cinematography transalpine", as he defines, has met several times the Italian film maker Bernardo Bertolucci, died on November 26, 2018 in Rome. He keeps the memory of a scientific man, passionate about French cinema and attached to his parmesan nuts, "A big character."
When did you meet Bernardo Bertolucci for the first time?
In 1975, when he had just turned around 1900 presented that year out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival. I interviewed him for a long time on this two-piece fresco, and we have never lost sight of each other. I met him again for his next movies and we developed a friendly relationship.
Bertolucci was a filmmaker, an author, a poet, someone who had a lot of fluency in the use of the language. He spoke very well French, but we spoke Italian together because I consider that artists are never as comfortable as they speak in their native language. There was someone I liked a lot that I enjoyed meeting.
When was your last exchange?
I had it on the phone a few months ago after going to Bari, Puglia. It was due for the film festival held in April. A festival that highlights the representation of Italian cinema by inviting its biggest characters. Bertolucci had come to give a film reading as we all had followed with some feelings: he was in a wheelchair unable to go. In this same festival had been projected The last tango in Paris, and I realized that it was in the movie actor Maria Michi, one of the main characters in Roma, open city Rosselini, made in 1945. I called him to get the heart. As a film maker, he had confirmed that he had chosen this actress as a form of tribute to Rossellini.
How was it perceived in Italy?
In Bari, where he had given this film lesson, the room was packed. Italian cinema was great in the 60's and 70's, a veritable golden age where a whole group of films were awarded in Cannes, Venice or the Oscars. There was a large number of large-scale filmmakers, the most famous being Fellini. These beautiful characters – Francesco Rosi, Elio Petri, Michelangelo Antonioni and Pier Paolo Pasolini – have given the Italian cinema a global influence, like Sergio Leone. Of this great generation, there are not many people since Vittorio Taviani and Ermanno Olmi died in spring 2018. Bertolucci was one of the last representatives of that time.
In his country there was a figure, and I think that the Italians suffered from unable to meet him and did not see new movies, although he continued to shoot despite the disease. He shot his last movie, Me and you, in the wheelchair in 2012, thanks to a drawer installed near her home. He fought hopes to make a new movie: the urge to shoot ended.
Tell us about his relationship with Pasolini …
To understand Bertolucci, you must know the environment in which he grew up. There was a great openness for him, and a good attachment to his homeland. It's an Emilia, a Parmesan. His father was a poet, a journalist who made film criticism, and who took his son a lot to watch movies. This allowed him to start his career very young by shooting his first movie, recruits, on a scenario of Pasolini, at the age of 21, thanks to his father's relationship. Bertolucci had been Pasolini's first assistant, a basic post, on the set ofAccatone (1961). They lived in the same building, and since the film was shot on the outskirts of Rome, Pasolini took the young Bertolucci every morning on the set. So they spent half an hour chatting every day, filming, but also dreaming, because Pasolini loved, like Fellini, to proclaim them as a revelation of the unconscious. This proximity to Pasolini was crucial for Bertolucci.
If you only had to recommend one of his movies, which would it be?
From a wide audience perspective I would choose The Conformist (1970), There our dear Jean-Louis Trintignant plays in the title role. A fantastic film based on a novel by Alberto Moravia, which dates back to the thirties, that is, during the fascist period.
For a slightly more informed audience I would choose The last tango in Paris : A big movie with Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando. In addition, the origin of Trintignant was originally, but in contrast to the nature of the subject and certain sexual scenes, he denied the role.
Were you able to discuss the controversy around the movie?
Yes, of course, he always talked about it. He apologized for it. Maria Schneider said she felt she had been raped as part of the "fake" sodomy scene, but as she said she had not been warned she suffered a lot. Bertolucci finally admitted that he had gone too far and decided not to inform Maria about the content of this scene to get the image shock experienced by the actor. He regretted, yes, not to have measured the trauma that would constitute this sequence for such a young actress.
What was his relationship with France?
Bertolucci was a big fan of French cinema, and especially New Wave. When he arrived in Paris, he always went to Cinémathèque. By the way, his second last movie, Innocents – The Dreamerswas shot in the context of 68 May. It is a story that occurs during the student raid, and the three main characteristics meet during a screening at Cinémathèque française, shot in front of the entrance story of the Palais de Chaillot.
It is in Cannes that his career was launched internationally, with the choice of his film Prima della rivoluzione, presented on the critics' week in 1964. It was there to be recognized as a particularly promising filmmaker, with exceptional gifts.
In France he was very familiar and appreciated, especially at the time of Last Emperor and Little Buddha. But then, Pride of beauty went a bit unnoticed, besieged was poorly distributed, and innocent did not work too much … Little Buddha (1993) is his last mainstream movie.