“Fucking God!,” screams an aging Marlon Brando in the 1972 film, “Last Tango in Paris.” Ragged and wilting, this certainly isn’t the virile Brando of “Julius Caesar” or “On the Waterfront.” He’s weaker here, more vulnerable and intimate. And by the end of the film, he’s cradled, dead, in a fetal position — broken.
This is the world of Bernardo Bertolucci. For more than 50 years, the innovative Italian director has, more than any other filmmaker, crafted a cinematic landscape of physical rawness and psychological intensity that continually re-defines the boundaries of what film can do or be. From the politically radical to the sexually graphic, Bertolucci’s films are epic, rebellious and, above all, enigmatic.
Starting on Friday, July 8, the Pacific Film Archive will explore the maestro’s dynamic canon with new prints of thirteen of his most notable films in their latest showcase, “Bernardo Bertolucci: In Search of Mystery.”
Born in 1941 to the poet and film critic Attilio Bertolucci, young Bernardo was raised in a world of lyrical expression. By the age of 21, he was already an award-winning novelist with his a burgeoning film career on the horizon. Released in 1962, his first feature, “The Grim Reaper” (“La commare secca”) explored the criminal undercurrent of human behavior with a Rashomon-esque tale centered around the murder of a prostitute.
Though perhaps derivative in plot, the combination of blunt brutality and overt sexuality in “The Grim Reaper” forged what would become the definitive style of Bertolucci’s early career — violent sensuality. Working within the contemporary framework of Italian Neorealism and the emergent French New Wave, Bertolucci’s films focus on the moral and emotional dilemmas of individuals within a turbulent society.