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Bernardo Bertolucci

Bernardo Bertolucci, film director.jpg
Bertolucci, c. 1971
Born (1941-03-16)16 March 1941
Parma, Italy
Died 26 November 2018(2018-11-26) (aged 77)
Rome, Italy
  • Film director
  • screenwriter
Years active 1962–2018
  • Adriana Asti
  • Clare Peploe
    (m. 1979)
  • Mark Peploe (brother-in-law)
Awards (see Bernardo Bertolucci § Notes)

Bernardo Bertolucci OMRI (Italian: [berˈnardo bertoˈluttʃi]; 16 March 1941 – 26 November 2018) was an Italian film director and screenwriter with a career that spanned 50 years. Considered one of the greatest directors in Italian cinema, Bertolucci's work achieved international acclaim. He was the first Italian filmmaker to win the Academy Award for Best Director for The Last Emperor (1987), one of many accolades including two Golden Globes, two David di Donatellos, a British Academy Award, and a César Award. 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 Festival. He had previously received a Lifetime Achievement Golden Lion from the Venice Film Festival.

A protégé of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bertolucci made his directorial debut at 22. His second film, Before the Revolution (1964), earned strong international reviews and has since gained classic status, being called a "masterpiece of Italian cinema" by Film4. His 1970 film The Conformist, an adaptation of the Alberto Moravia novel, is considered a classic of international cinema, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and the prestigious Berlin Golden Bear. His 1972 film Last Tango in Paris was controversial. Bertolucci's films such as the historical epic 1900 (1976), the family drama La Luna (1979), and the darkly comedic Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man (1981), were also controversial but acclaimed.

His 1987 film The Last Emperor, a biopic of Chinese monarch Puyi, was a critical and commercial success, earning rave reviews and sweeping the 60th Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director). He followed its success with two more films in his "Oriental Trilogy" – The Sheltering Sky, an adaptation of the novel of the same name, and Little Buddha, a Buddhist religious epic. His 1996 film, Stealing Beauty, brought him his second of two Palme d'Or nominations. He continued directing well into the 21st century, releasing his final film, Me and You, in 2012.

Bertolucci's films often deal with themes of politics, history, class conflict, and social taboos; and his style has influenced several filmmakers. Several of his films have appeared on lists of the greatest film of all time.

Early life

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 Australian mother (of Irish and Scottish descent).

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 had helped the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini publish his first novel, and Pasolini reciprocated by hiring Bertolucci as his first assistant in Rome on Accattone (1961).

Bertolucci had one brother, the theatre director and playwright Giuseppe (27 February 1947 – 16 June 2012). His cousin was the film producer Giovanni Bertolucci (24 June 1940 – 17 February 2005), with whom he worked on a number of films.


Directorial breakthrough

Bertolucci initially wished to become a poet like his father. With this goal in mind, 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 film, produced by Tonino Cervi with a screenplay by Pasolini, called La commare secca (1962). The film is a murder mystery. Bertolucci uses flashbacks to piece together the crime and the person who committed it. The film which shortly followed was his acclaimed 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 several of the American, Swedish, French, and German companies and actors due to the effects of the global economic recession on the Italian film industry.

Bernardo Bertolucci Hollywood Walk of Fame
Bertolucci's star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

Bertolucci increased his fame with his 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, 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.

The Last Emperor and later career

Bernardo Bertolucci
Bertolucci in 2011

In 1987, Bertolucci directed the epic The Last Emperor, a biographical film 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 exclusively from then on. The film was independently financed and three years in the making. Bertolucci, who co-wrote the film with Mark Peploe, won the Academy Award for Best Director. 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 nine 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 film 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 his old themes but with varying results from both critics and the public. He filmed Stealing Beauty in 1996, then The Dreamers in 2003.

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

In 2012, his final film, Me and You was screened out of competition at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and was released early in 2013 in the UK. The film is an adaptation of Niccolò Ammaniti's young adult 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 programme 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 edition of Vanity Fair, Bertolucci announced 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 Michelangelo 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."

As a screenwriter, producer and actor

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.

Politics and personal beliefs

Bertolucci was an atheist.

Bertolucci's films are often very 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. His political films were preceded by others re-evaluating history. The Conformist (1970) criticised fascism, 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 27 September 2009, Bertolucci was one of the signatories of the appeal to the Swiss government to release Roman Polanski, who was being held awaiting extradition to the United States.

On Twitter on 24 April 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 26 November 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
  • 1999: Life Time Achievement Award - 30th International Film Festival of India
  • 2007: Golden Lion for his career at the Venice Film Festival
  • 2011: Honorary Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival


Year Title Credited as Notes
Director Writer Producer
1962 La Commare Secca Yes Yes No
1964 Before the Revolution Yes Yes No
1967 How to Win a Billion... and Get Away with It No Yes No
1968 Partner Yes Yes No Nominated - Golden Lion
Once Upon a Time in the West No Yes No
1969 Amore e Rabbia Yes Yes No Segment: Agonia
Nominated - Golden Bear
1970 The Conformist Yes Yes No Nominated - Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated - Golden Bear
The Spider's Stratagem Yes Yes No
1972 Last Tango in Paris Yes Yes No Nominated - Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated - Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Director
1976 1900 Yes Yes No
1979 La Luna Yes Yes No
1981 Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man Yes Yes No Nominated - Palme d'Or
1987 The Last Emperor Yes Yes No Academy Award for Best Director
Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
BAFTA Award for Best Film
César Award for Best Foreign Film
David di Donatello for Best Director
David di Donatello for Best Screenplay
Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing
Golden Globe Award for Best Director
Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay
Nominated - BAFTA Award for Best Direction
1990 The Sheltering Sky Yes Yes No Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Director
1993 Little Buddha Yes Yes No
1996 Stealing Beauty Yes Yes No Nominated - David di Donatello for Best Director
Nominated - Palme d'Or
1998 Besieged Yes Yes No Nominated - David di Donatello for Best Director
2001 The Triumph of Love No Yes Yes
2002 Ten Minutes Older: The Cello Yes Yes No Segment: Histoire d'eaux
2003 The Dreamers Yes No No
2012 Me and You Yes Yes No Nominated - David di Donatello for Best Film
Nominated - David di Donatello for Best Director
Nominated - David di Donatello for Best Screenplay
2021 The Echo Chamber No Yes Yes

Documentary features

Year Title Credited as Notes
director screenWriter
1966 Il canale Yes Yes Documentary Short
1971 La salute è malata Yes No
1984 L'addio a Enrico Berlinguer Yes Yes
1989 12 registi per 12 città Yes No Segment: Bologna


  • Grand-Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic of Italy (Rome, 2 June 1988), under proposal of the Council of Ministers.
  • Gold Medal of the Italian Medal of Merit for Culture and Art of Italy (Rome, 21 February 2001). For having been able to combine poetry and great cinema as in the history of Italian cinema. For having known how to make different cultures and worlds dialogue, remaining strongly rooted in the culture of your country. For having been able to represent with passion and courage the political, social and cultural history of the last hundred years.
  • Master's Degree Honoris Causa in History and Criticism of Arts and Performance of the University of Parma (Laurea Magistrale Honoris Causa in Storia e critica delle arti e dello spettacolo). Bernardo Bertolucci is one of the greatest and recognized filmmakers in the world. His cinema is a reference point for entire generations of directors, has thrilled millions of viewers, also arousing extensive cultural debates that have gone well beyond the film industry, and is the subject of significant historical and theoretical studies published in all of the major world languages.

See also

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