Italian director and screenwriter Bernardo Bertolucci (age 72) is a rare and unusual gem in the filmmaking world – one who has been in the game for fifty years. ÉCU is happy to hear that he’s received recognition for his life’s work at the recent European Film Awards as they honoured him with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Last year he also won the Honorary Palme d’Or Award at the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival. Handling varying strata of social, political and sexual issues in unique and sometimes quite challenging ways, his films never fail to make an impression on their audience.

Amongst his seminal works you can find: The Conformist (1970), Last Tango in Paris (1972), 1900 (1976), The Last Emperor (1987), The Sheltering Sky (1990), Stealing Beauty (1996), The Dreamers (2003). It seems his world has been seeped in intellectualism since childhood, which has perhaps lent such impressive depth to his films. Bertolucci’s talent first grabbed international attention with The Conformist, a movie that deals with fascism in Italy during Mussolini’s dictatorship. Moving from politics to eroticism, Last Tango in Paris stars Marlon Brando, whose character engages in sordid sadomasochistic relations with a young woman in a dilapidated Parisian apartment after his wife commits suicide. This controversial film is certainly surrounded by scandal – particularly due to its misogynistic treatment of women.

Bertolucci’s focus shifted back to Italy’s past with the historical epic that was 1900, starring Robert De Niro and Gérard Depardieu and examining the impact of World War II on people’s lives. His film The Last Emperor was independently produced and financed, and charts the life of the last Emperor of China Aisin-Giori Puyi. China’s feudalism, revolution and current state is reflected through this epic story. The movie won nine Academy Awards, earning Bertolucci the Oscar for Best Director. The Sheltering Sky was adapted from Paul Bowle’s novel by the same title, and features an American couple’s relatively naive expedition to North Africa with their friend. Debra Winger and John Malkovich play the couple who are facing crises both existentially and in their relationship. Visually The Sheltering Sky is very captivating as the characters travel through beautiful towns and deep into the Sahara.

Bertolucci’s film The Dreamers is set in Paris, with the 1968 student riots present in the background, and centred on an American student who makes friends with a Parisian brother and sister. The three recoil from the world to spend all of their time together – and have a very strange and intense relationship. An interesting aspect of the film is that the characters make reference to the great cinematic works to that point – and clips of classic movies are shown throughout. His latest film Me and You (2012) was screened out of competition at Cannes Film Festival 2012. Bertolucci’s films contain so many elements and ÉCU sees this European director as one of the finest out there. He definitely deserves to have his life’s work celebrated!

Gill Gillespie

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