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Bernardo Bertolucci

Biography from Baseline's Encyclopedia of Film

Occupation: Director

Born: March 16, 1940, Parma, Italy

Education: Rome University (modern literature)

BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI FILMOGRAPHY

    At the age of 24, Bernardo Bertolucci established himself at the forefront of international cinema with Before the Revolution (1962). Its operatic sensibility, coupled with a precocious facility for visual style, set the standard for the director's later works. Likewise, its focus on family romance and psychological crisis, framed by a sharply defined political and social context, staked out central concerns in Bertolucci's vision.
    Influenced by writers and artists as diverse as Freud, Marx and Verdi, Bertolucci always shapes a set of rich associations in his cinematic texts, although never at the expense of visual style, which remains primary. In Partner (1968), which pays homage to the French New Wave and particularly Jean-Luc Godard, Bertolucci began to explore his fascination with the figure of the psychological double. The doubling theme reappears in The Spider's Strategem (1970), which traces a son's search for his father through a surrealistic, complex narrative that incorporates Verdi's Rigoletto and the work of Borges and Magritte. A later film, Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man (1981), reverses that narrative premise, following a father's search for his son.
    In The Conformist (1971), considered by many critics Bertolucci's masterpiece, lighting, decor, costume and music shape a stylized backdrop of Fascist Italy against which the hero attempts to resolve his own sexual and political conflicts. The classic sequence in which the two central women characters perform a tango is a Bertolucci signature: the dance as metaphor. The dance also appears at the center of his controversial Last Tango in Paris (1973). Considered obscene by some viewers, Last Tango in Paris was for others a breakthrough in the depiction of sexual politics in its presentation of the passionate, conflicted relationship between an older man and a younger woman in the enclosed psychological space of chamber cinema. As with The Conformist, the visual style and themes of Last Tango in Paris were to influence a generation of filmmakers. Controversy also surrounded Luna (1979) because of its graphic portrayal of mother/son incest. The mythic subtext of the film focuses once again on the search for a father: both the Italian sire of the young American boy and the artistic father (Verdi) of his opera-singer mother.
    Bertolucci returned to his northern Italian roots in the sweeping epic 1900 (1977). The film charts 45 years of social history and class struggle through the friendship-and political enmity-of two men born, on different sides of the social fence, at the turn of the century. Bertolucci again demonstrated his adeptness with the epic form in The Last Emperor (1987), winner of nine Academy Awards, including best director and best picture. The film follows the shifting fortunes of Pu Yi, who begins his life as the last emperor of China and ends it as a gardener in post-revolutionary Pekin. Recurrent themes of sexual and political identity are explored within the perverse ambience of the Chinese court and during Pu Yi's subsequent political exile, imprisonment and political "rehabilitation." Bertolucci's much-anticipated adaptation of Paul Bowles's cult favorite The Sheltering Sky (1990), starring John Malkovich and Debra Winger, proved a critical and financial disappointment. Romantic and sensuous, Bertolucci's work is characterized by expressive mise-en-sc?ne, rhythmic editing, fluid camera movement and complex narration, typically backed by an evocative musical score. He is at once heir to a generation of great Italian filmmakers and a dominant force in international cinema today.

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