Bernardo Bertolucci

Facts about Bernardo Bertolucci

Bernardo Bertolucci died at 77 years old
Born: March 16, 1941
Best known as: The Oscar-winning director of The Last Emperor



Bernardo Bertolucci Biography

One of Italy’s most famous film directors, Bernardo Bertolucci won two Academy Awards as the director and co-writer of the 1987 film The Last Emperor. It was the culmination of a career which included thoughtful and politically-tinged films including The Conformist (1970), Last Tango in Paris (1972), and 1900 (1976).

The son of a poet and a schoolteacher, Bernardo Bertolucci began his film career as a production assistant on the 1961 film Accatone, directed by poet Pier Paolo Pasolini. A year later, with help from Pasolini, Bertolucci was directing his own first feature film, La Commare Secca (The Grim Reaper1962).

Bertolucci was off and running. Eventually he made two dozen films, known both for their controversial topics and for what The Guardian called “Bertolucci’s flamboyant style – elaborate tracking shots, baroque camera angles, opulent colour effects, ornate décor and the intricate play of light and shadow that give his work such a distinctive surface.” Political and sexual themes were a key to his work; “The outlook of many Bertolucci films is rooted in a fusion of Marx and Freud,” said the Chicago Reader. His name was often mentioned with Jean-Luc Godard, Nicolas Roeg, his fellow Italian Federico Fellini and other auteurs of the 1960s and 1970s.

Last Tango In Paris (1972) was for a time his biggest hit and his most controversial film. It starred Marlon Brando as a 50ish American businessman who begins a frankly sexual affair with a much younger woman (Maria Schneider). The film’s explicit sex scenes were decried as pornographic (or worse, as idealized rape) by critics, but the notoriety helped make the film a hit.

15 years later, Bertolucci had his biggest mainstream success with The Last Emperor, based on the life of Puyi, the two-year-old boy who ascended the throne in 1908. The lavish epic won nine Oscars, including the only two Oscars of Bertolucci’s career.

Bernardo Bertolucci’s later films included The Sheltering Sky (1990, with Debra Winger and John Malkovich) and Little Buddha (1993, with Chris Isaak and Keanu Reeves). Unsuccessful back surgery in 2003 left Bertolucci in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. His last film, released in 2012, was the mysterioso psychodrama Me and You.


Extra credit

Bernardo Bertolucci was recognized for his lifetime of achievement at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011… Bernardo Bertolucci was married twice: to actress Adriana Asti (they were married and divorced in the 1960s) and to screenwriter and director Clare Peploe (from 1979 until his death in 2018). Bertolucci had no children.


Related Biographies