The Last Emperor director dies from cancer

Bernardo Bertolucci, in a photo taken in 2003, had been wheelchair-bound for more than a decade.
Bernardo Bertolucci, in a photo taken in 2003, had been wheelchair-bound for more than a decade. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ROME • Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, whose films include Last Tango In Paris and 1900, died yesterday, Italian media said.

He was 77. His publicist said he died at home in Rome from cancer.

Considered one of the giants of Italian cinema, he also mined success in Hollywood and was the only Italian ever to win the Oscar for best film, snapping up the award in 1988 for The Last Emperor.

The biographical masterpiece about the last Chinese emperor won a total of nine Oscars, all of those for which it was nominated, including Best Director.

It was also touted as the first Western epic about China that was made with the Chinese government's cooperation.

Born in Parma, north-eastern Italy, in 1941, Bertolucci made films that were often highly politicised, dealing with workers' struggles in the 1976 movie 1900 or the fate of left-wingers in fascist Italy in The Conformist (1970).

He acquired notoriety for his 1972 erotic drama Last Tango In Paris starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, which featured a controversial sex scene involving butter.

But others noted that the movie explored politics and sexuality too.

According to trade publication Variety, Bertolucci later revealed that the scene was not told to Schneider, then 19, in advance, in order to get an authentic reaction from her "as a girl, not as an actress".

But the controversy over the movie allowed him to tap a high-profile cast, including Robert De Niro, Gerard Depardieu and Burt Lancaster, for his 300-minute epic 1900, the Guardian noted.

When asked in 2013 how he would like to be remembered, Bertolucci said: "I don't care. I think my movies are there, people can see them.

"And sometimes I laugh, thinking I will be remembered more as a talent scout of young girls than as a film director."

The list of starlets he discovered includes Dominique Sanda in The Conformist, Schneider, Liv Tyler in Stealing Beauty (1996) and Eva Green, who made her screen debut in The Dreamers (2003).

Bertolucci, who had been wheelchair-bound for more than a decade, won an honorary Palme d'Or for his life's work at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2018, with the headline 'The Last Emperor director dies from cancer'. Print Edition | Subscribe