Bernardo Bertolucci Golden Lion for the 75th anniversary

Bertolucci 60. Mostra 2003Bernardo Bertolucci has been awarded the 75th anniversary Golden Lion, the special award set up this year to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Venice Film Festival (1932-2007). The Venice Film Festival is the oldest of its kind in the world and will be held this year from 29th August to 8th September 2007.

The suggestion to nominate Bertolucci, one of today’s greatest directors whose works are midway between poetry and history, and have left a profound mark on modern cinema, was made by the Festival Director, Marco Müller, and approved by the Board of Directors of the Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia, chaired by Davide Croff. The 75th anniversary Golden Lion will be awarded to the director during the evening of the final awards ceremony, immediately before the announcement of the Golden Lion 2007, on 8th September in the Sale Grande in the Palazzo del Cinema.

As part of the awards celebrations for Bertolucci’s 75th anniversary Golden Lion, the barely shown but major documentary, La via del petrolio (1966), will be screened, in the version restored by the Cineteca Nazionale and ENI, along with the masterpiece Bertolucci presented at the Festival in 1970, The Spider’s Stratagem, in the newly restored version by the Cineteca Nazionale.

"Bernardo Bertolucci began his exceptional career over 40 years ago in Venice”, declared the Biennale’s President, Davide Croff, “and we are proud that he should have accepted this unique award, linked to the history of the Festival. Bertolucci is a great Italian director, who has had the courage to give a cosmopolitan dimension to his personal inspiration, combining industry requirements with a boundless love for cinema. For this reason, he embodies various aspects and characteristics of the Venice Festival in en emblematic manner, and is thus the ideal candidate for  the 75th anniversary Golden Lion.

When presenting his idea to award a Golden Lion on the occasion of the 75th anniversary the Festival Director, Marco Müller, stated the following motivations: “A creator of worlds and of truths (and not a simple reproducer of these), Bernardo Bertolucci has persistently presented us with a cinema that is time and time again something essential for life, a need as important as are a roof, food and clothes. His limitless love for film has not prevented him from breaking free early on from his masters (between the two poles of Pasolini and Ophuls, there are also many “American colleagues”), thus reaching his own personal aesthetic. Within the autonomy of the “Bertolucci system”, elegance and stylistic perfection are combined with extraordinary complexity and expressive intensity. Often, his films have shown people travelling, moving (like him) within and outside themselves. He has reviewed Italy’s recent history as the key to understanding the present and has never ceased to seek out the Other, pushing us towards experiences (and cultures) distant from our own. He strongly embodies (and how many other times in Italy?) the concept of a cinema that is “resistant” as a popular utopian way of thinking and which is constantly being redefined. His films are both a declaration of love for cinema and a manifesto for future utopias to be able to rise from the ashes of those of the past. For its 75th anniversary, the Festival needed Bernardo Bertolucci to be able to re-read its history and consider its future”.

Bernardo Bertolucci’s filmography goes hand in hand with the Venice Film Festival. The director was at the Lido from the outset with his The Grim Reaper (1962), but the year before had seen the screening of Accattone (1961) by the young Pier Paolo Pasolini; Bertolucci was the assistant director of this film. Subsequently, other major works by him were given their world premiere at the Venice Festival: Partner (1968), The Spider’s stratagem (1970), Luna (1979) and The Dreamers (2003). In 2000, Gianni Amelio presented the restored version of the documentary dedicated to the Parma-born director at the 57th Venice Film Festival, Bertolucci secondo il cinema. This was filmed in 16mm in 1976 and portrays a working day during the filming of 1900. In 1983, Bertolucci was president of the international competition jury for the 40th Festival, which awarded the Golden Lion to Jean-Luc Godard’s Prénom Carmen.

Bernardo Bertolucci may be considered the most famous Italian director around today, and one of the most important and influential directors in the history of cinema. With his prestigious filmography, he has won prizes and recognition in major festivals and in every country. He established a world first for a European film in winning nine Oscars for The Last Emperor (1987), the first and only Italian film to win an Oscar for best director. His international fame and his reputation as an undisputed “Master of cinema”, a point of reference for every film-maker or nouvelle vague, can be attributed to his extraordinary free and highly personal creative development, which has matured during an intense artistic career which spans 40 years. A career characterised by a continuous firm commitment to social content and by firmly adhering to a personal film style, which he has applied to unforgettable voyages in the memory of people and places. More than anyone else, Bertolucci has succeeded in combining the experimentalism of the 1960s with the production methods of large-scale film-making and, like few others, has succeeded in narrating events from various periods, associating poetry with the camera, absorbing the influence of psychoanalysis, drawing his own life experiences into the language of his film, by means of other expressive forms such as literature. Bertolucci has been successful in the choice of his masters and with them has developed his own personal style, playing on inventiveness and expressive striving. And while the presence of the paternal figure is one dear to him, one can equally say that, film after film, he continuously seeks out new fathers and masters. He thereby  aims to portray reality through the filter of the gaze and has learned from the leading directors who have contributed to the development of his vision. The various stages and transformations of his personality indicate that Pasolini, Godard, Visconti and Rossellini are strong points of reference for the structure of his tale in visual and narrative terms. There is thus not just one Bertolucci, but several facets to the same director, who seeks to portray his own identity through the mirror offered by exemplary works. His film-making is thus characterised by a shifting of styles and narrative models, enabling one to see his career as an analytical voyage in search of his own identity and, at the same time, a journey through which he has succeeded in presenting a personal reflection on time and history in his individual films and in his work as a whole.

During the 64th Festival and as part of the 75th anniversaryGolden Lion presented to Bernardo Bertolucci, there will be a screening not only of the unforgettable The Spider’s Stratagem, now restored by the Cineteca Nazionale, but also of the less well-known documentary, La via del petrolio, in the version restored by the Cineteca Nazionale and ENI, which the ENI commissioned the director to make in collaboration with the RAI between 1965 and 1966, during the four years of inactivity between Before the revolution (1964) and Partner (1968). The documentary, which consists of three episodes (the first is spectacular, rich and strictly documentary; the second adventurous, with literary quotations and references to the history of cinema; the third is full of fantasy), traces the history of black gold, from its extraction in Persia to the voyage of an oil tanker from the Persian Gulf to Genoa, and its transfer by pipeline from Genoa to Germany. The first episode (Le origini), concentrates on the oil’s land of origin and on the magical presence of fire. These poetic elements provoke a reflection on cinema as a means of reproducing reality. The second episode (Il viaggio) is equally surprising, especially the part in which he draws a parallel between the voyage of the oil tanker and the fantasy-filled films of George Méliès. The third episode (Attraverso l’Europa) is the diary of a journalist, the chronicle of a voyage that is partly historical, partly literary. An experiment in which objectivity – the documentary –  and subjectivity – the journalist/protagonist – continually overlap.  Bertolucci explains: “La via del petroliowas a documentary which I had been commissioned to make, but I tried to steer away from the rules of documentary film making as much as I could. I portrayed the oil bores as pioneers in an archaic Western, and the helicopter pilots as anarchic, individualistic heroes, like the solitary figures of Godard or in Only Angels Have Wings”. During the filming of the second part of the film, Bertolucci produced a 12-minute short on 35mm dedicated to the Suez Canal, entitled Il canale. It is also worth noting that the director has never really worked in the documentary field; after La via del petrolio and Il canale, he made only three other so-called “documentary” films, including the choral work dedicated to the death of Pasolini, Il silenzio è complicità (1976).

Venice, 18 June 2007

Biographical notes:

Bernardo Bertolucci (Parma, 1941), son of the great poet, Attilio, and elder brother of another director, Giuseppe, is the most famous active director alive in Italy today. A master recognised by young film makers and celebrated by critics everywhere, for his eclectic work that is always suspended between poetry and history. He has succeeded in combining the deepest and most original personal inspiration with production scales similar to those of major epics, thus reaching out to a wide audience. International fame came with Last Tango in Paris (1972), the most successful film in the history of Italian cinema, with more than 14 million spectators (including those of the 1987 re-release), and was consolidated with the nine Oscars won for The Last Emperor (1987), a record for a European film. However, his artistic fame has grown at a constant rate throughout a career lasting 40 years, from his early The Grim Reaper (1962), based on a subject by Pasolini, to his most recent The Dreamers (2003), with works characterised by psychological investigation interwoven with historical and social context, and by a cosmopolitan dimension and multi-faceted stylistic appeal

(light, music, dance, melodrama), as well as a reflection on cinema and politics.

In 1951, he moved with his family to Rome, and for a certain period of time lived in the same building as Pier Paolo Pasolini. Initially, it seemed that he would follow in his father’s footsteps, as he showed an interest in poetry and joined the Faculty of Modern Literature at the Università La Sapienza di Roma. But, once he had met Pasolini, who was then in the early phases of his film making career, he soon abandoned his studies for cinema. With a reduced gauge camera, Bertolucci made two amateur short films in 1957 and 1958, La teleferica and La morte del maiale. In 1961, Pasolini, then working on his first film, Accattone, invited Bertolucci to work as his assistant director; he claimed that for him this resulted in a sort of “cinema invention”, the discovery of a means of expression he had loved since childhood but which he had now rediscovered through the eyes of a poet. In the following year, having at the age of just 21 won the Premio Viareggio Opera Prima with a collection of poems called In cerca del mistero, he directed his first feature-length film and presented it to Venice, thanks to the interest of Tonino Cervi. This was the realistic The Grim Reaper (1962), based on a subject by the Friuli-born poet, who was supposed to have directed the film himself, and with a screenplay by Sergio Citti. Inspired by Pasolini in terms of theme and its setting in suburban Rome, The grim reaper was already different to the film work Pasolini was himself producing: like Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), it was structured around the reconstruction of a crime, the murder of a prostitute, but the film has a lyrical touch and narrative solutions that already look ahead to Bertolucci’s future films. In his subsequent films, he distanced himself further from Pasolini’s style. With his semi-autobiographical Before the Revolution (1964), Bertolucci founded his art on a combination of lyricism and contemplative rigour, the ability to film emotion with detachment, echoing the theatre of Brecht or the work of Verdi, to love cinema and to promote autobiographical anecdote in a field within the bounds of abstraction. The film was presented at the Semaine de la Critique in Cannes and awarded the Prix Max Ophuls and the Prix de la Jeune Critique. This was followed by the anti-realistic Partner (1968), presented in Venice and inspired by Dostoevsky’s The double. Both were influenced by the heritage of Cocteau, Godard and ”Living Theatre”, and both amounted to a coming to terms with the cultural experiences and existential moods of youth protest. Bertolucci was already proving to be a highly personal film maker, with a refined ability to combine autobiographical themes and literary references, thereby indulging in the urge (typical of the period) to cast a lucid and critical eye on society. Henceforth, Bertolucci’s films would almost always be based around the occurrence of an event, after which the protagonists undergo a brusque change in their situation (whether intimate, ideological or political), rendering them almost incapable of reacting effectively. The friendship between Bertolucci and Pasolini remained a close one and the two would swap ideas and comments over the following 15 years. In 1968, together with Carlo Lizzani, Jean-Luc Godard and Marco Bellocchio, the two film makers directed five episodes put together in an experimental film called Amore e rabbia, initially included in the “Vangelo ‘70”, and subsequently removed from its Christian context and presented at the 1969 Berlin Film Festival.

After working with Sergio Leone and Dario Argento on the subject of Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Bertolucci attained full expressive and artistic maturity with two masterpieces from 1970, The conformist, his first film to be widely acclaimed by both the public and critics alike, and The spider’s stratagem, both inspired by favoured masters such as Renoir and Ophuls. Based on the novel of the same name by Moravia, The Conformist boasted an exceptional cast comprising Jean-Louis Trintignant, Dominique Sanda, Stefania Sandrelli and Pierre Clementi, and told the tortured story of a life (that of Marcello-Trintignant) and of a period (the Fascist 1930s) on the wrong track. Here was a social eye cast on the situation of the time and expressed through an appealing succession of flashbacks and with an emblematic sensuality that have clearly left their mark in Italian cinema. This is also thanks to the group of young collaborators, who were soon to become famous, working alongside (as they would in the future) the 28-year-old Bertolucci: photographic director Vittorio Storaro, scriptwriter Ferdinando Scarfiotti and editor Kim Arcalli. Presented at the Berlin Film Festival and in New York, the film obtained a Golden Globes nomination for best foreign film and an Oscar nomination for best non-original screenplay, and it won the David di Donatello 1971 for best production; the full edition, restored by Vittorio Storaro, would be presented at the 1993 Locarno Film Festival.

The Spider’s Stratagem, which came out virtually contemporarily and was produced by the RAI, starring Giulio Brogi and an unforgettable Alida Valli, was based on a tale by Borges and is set in an imaginary small town of the Po valley, Tara, a clear reference to Gone with the wind. Here was another social investigation that was also a dazzling and disturbing vertiginous voyage into the phantoms of memory and the relationship between father and child. In this film, history is experienced as a nightmare, and myths (the Resistance, heroes) are revealed in all their ambiguity and falseness. With regard to Bertolucci’s career on the other hand, this film marks the attainment of narrative maturity, the moment in which, in exploring his own roots, he cleared up his inspirational universe and built strong characterisations. Initially presented in Venice, the film won the Prix Luis Buñuel in France.

With his subsequent Last Tango in Paris (1972), Bertolucci achieved wide international recognition and soon the film became a cult movie, assisted by the legal mess the film caused in Italy following its condemnation “to the flames” by the Supreme Court for obscenity and only rehabilitated in 1987. The copies saved from destruction were deposited in the Cineteca Nazionale di Roma and the integral versions, preserved in foreign film archives, served as the basis for the publication of the film in DVD format. The film, which focuses on the theme of sex from a Freudian stance, one already seen in The Conformist, presents an essay of great figurative appeal around some existential themes (love, solitude, the oedipal projection of Maria Schneider). The photography of the film was based on the paintings of Francis Bacon, quoted in the opening credit images. The film itself sees the figure of Marlon Brando starring in a new voyage through memory, in a search for the psychological roots of a generation that grew up without evolving and feels hopelessly lost. The film was nominated for two Oscars (best director and Marlon Brando as best leading actor) and two Golden Globes (best film and best director). Bertolucci won a Nastro d’Argento for best director and Maria Schneider a David di Donatello as best foreign actress.

Thanks in part to the success of Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci was able to realise his ambitious two-part project, 1900 – act I and 1900 – act II (1976), presented at the Cannes Film Festival and starring an international cast made up of Burt Lancaster, Sterling Hayden, Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu, Donald Sutherland, Dominique Sanda, Stefania Sandrelli, Francesca Bertini, and grandiose crowd scenes (with 12,000 selected extras). The film provided a rich, epic historical overview full of great melodramatic episodes, following the saga of two patriarchal farming families in Emilia-Romagna (the rich landowners, Berlinghieri, and their share croppers, the Dalcò family), from the early 1900s to the Liberation in 1945. The whole seen against a backdrop of the most important historical events of the century. But here too, the historical stage serves to highlight the individual, and is placed at the centre of a psychological investigation into the deceit and the mimicry of people, and into their fragility when faced with the responsibilities that destiny reserves for all of us.

Memory is also a central theme in two of his subsequent films: Luna (1969), presented in Venice, and portraying a new oedipal conflict (a film for which the leading actor Tomas Milian landed a Golden Globes nomination and the leading actress Jill Claybourgh won the Nastro d’Argento), and Tragedy of a ridiculous man (1981), with Ugo Tognazzi in the role of a Parma-born industrialist tricked by his heir, who in the final analysis chooses to give up the truth and opt not to know. With this film, presented at the Cannes Film Festival, Tognazzi won the Grand Prix for best actor.

The three major films that followed, The Last Emperor (1987), The Sheltering Sky (1990) and Little Buddha (1993), have also been defined as “the elsewhere trilogy” due to their exotic locations, nevertheless they do not depart from the director’s fundamental themes. The Last Emperor, produced by Great Britain, Italy and Hong Kong is a colossal epic with an oedipal touch (as seen in 1900) and  explores the extraordinary events in the life of Pu-yi, a three-year-old Chinese boy who suddenly finds himself on the throne of a vast empire and who, as he grows up, is unable to avoid his fate. Filmed in outside locations in China in order to give a great visual richness to the work, it portrays – fully respecting the complexity of the situation – the transformation of China from medieval absolutism to popular democracy; it anticipates the signs of the nation’s recent modernity but also revisits the themes characteristic in Bertolucci’s work: the dialectic between decadence and renewal, the value of the imagination, the taste for beauty, the impossibility of sentiments. The film proved to be a world-wide success and won nine Oscars, including best film, best director and best photography, as well as four Golden Globes, including best film and best screenplay, eight Davids di Donatello, four Nastri d’Argento and the César for best foreign film. The photography of Vittorio Storaro and the music of  Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Byrne won a Nastro d’Argento and a Golden Globe respectively.

Equally spectacular in terms of exotic images, filmed on location, and with a complex psychological content were The Sheltering Sky, based on the novel by Paul Bowles, narrating the tragic love of Port and Kit Moresco (John Malkovich and Debra Winger) in a tourist-existential voyage through Morocco, and Little Buddha, a surreal re-evocation of the spiritual development of Siddharta, starring Keanu Reeves and Bridget Fonda. Two small but great films followed, filmed and set in Italy by a Bertolucci who had come home to a state of grace: Stealing Beauty (1996), in competition inCannes, and the story of the sexual initiation and psychological development of a young girl (Liv Tyler), filtered through the light of the magical Tuscan hills. This was an example of the director’s new stylistic serenity which had already been revealed in Little Buddha (and which would reoccur in The Dreamers, 2003).

In 1990, Bertolucci was president of the international jury at the Cannes Film Festival, which assigned the Palme d’Or to David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. In 1997, he received the Pardo d’onore at the 50th Locarno International Film Festival and the Premio Bianchi, awarded by the Sindacato Giornalisti Cinematografici Italiani (Union of Italian film journalists). His next film, Besieged (1998) was a fascinating and particularly successful film; his most recent critically acclaimed work. It portrays the touching, impossible love story between a pianist – in a house in Rome with a view overlooking the Trinità dei Monti – and his African daily help (Thandie Newton appearing here in her first film). It gives a somewhat tender portrayal of the middle-class figures of his early films (Before the Revolution, The Conformist), who seemed incapable of reacting; now, as if in a dream or as a last hope, Bertolucci gives them the opportunity to intervene with reality, thereby untangling the  muddle of private and public. An example is that the pianist succeeds in having her husband, who has been imprisoned in his own country as a political prisoner, freed from jail,.

In 2000, Bertolucci produced and wrote the screenplay for The Triumph of Love, directed by his wife, Clare Peploe, and in 2001 appeared in Laura Betti’s film, Pier Paolo Pasolini: La ragione di un sogno in order to pay homage to his unforgettable master. Together with Claire Denis, Mike Figgis, Jean-Luc Godard, Jirí Menzel, Michael Radford, Volker Schlöndorff and István Szabó, in 2002 he worked on Ten Minutes Older – The Cello, a collaboration made up of short films lasting ten minutes each, not presented in competition in the 59th Venice Film Festival. For his episode, Histoire d’eau (filmed in the Circeo), Bertolucci drew inspiration from an ancient Indian parable, narrated by Adriana Asti in Before the Revolution and also recited by Elsa Morante. In the film, the theme of time is mixed with that of integration and inter-cultural encounters. Dreamlike characters, suspended between autobiographical memory and cinematographic quotation, also make up the protagonists of The Dreamers (2003), starring Eva Green and Louis Garrel, passionate film-buffs at the Paris Cinématheque, as was the director himself in his youth. Here, Bertolucci personally and emotionally revisits the themes and situations of his youth, and presents a catalogue – more explicit than ever before – of his own film legends through a new, seductive and serene voyage through memory. The film was presented at the Venice Film Festival, where it was greatly appreciated by the young public; night-time screenings were put on by popular request.

In 2006, the Biennale di Venezia presented a major exhibition of the original costumes made for The Last Emperor. Curated by Giulia Mafai, a historian of costume and scriptwriter, the exhibition opened in February 2006 for the Carnevale del Teatro in the spectacular venues of the Arsenale and was directed by Maurizio Scaparro. Its aim was to pay homage to this epic film of rare beauty, which successfuly combined the paradigmatic biography of a man and the birth of the new Chinese nation of the 20th century.

Bertolucci is currently working on a project he left aside eight to nine years ago which is dedicated to Gesualdo da Venosa, a late 16th-century noble composer of Neapolitan origin, rediscovered by Stravinsky. The film will narrate the turbulent life of the Italian composer, who also went down in history for the brutal murder of his wife, Maria d’Avalos, who was caught in flagrante delicto with her lover, the Duca D’Adria, Fabrizio Carafa. The film will be in English and will make great use of music.