Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Bernardo Bertolucci 1941-2018

Bernardo Bertolucci was always destined for a life as an artist. “I could say like Judy Garland in A Star is Born (1954): ‘I was born in the trunk of a Paris theatre’,” he told an interviewer in 1984. “I mean that somehow I am a son of art.”

Born in 1941 to the poet and critic Attilio Bertolucci and the literature professor Ninetta Giovanardi, the young Bernardo spent much of his childhood writing poetry before picking up a 16mm camera at the age of 15. He shot two short films with his younger brother Giuseppe (who would also go on to become a filmmaker), and his path was set. It was a path he wasted no time in following. By the age of 20 Bertolucci had dropped out of university and was working as an assistant to Pier Paolo Pasolini, and when he was 21 years old he was presenting his debut feature The Grim Reaper (1962), based on a story by Pasolini, at the Venice Film Festival.

It was an auspicious beginning to an extraordinary career. Within a decade of his debut, this prodigiously talented director had established himself as not only a leading light of the burgeoning Italian cinema, but as a major international artist. Working primarily with the cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Bertolucci developed a vivid and sensual aesthetic style in his films. He was fascinated by questions of sexual and political identity, with his own leftwing politics being pushed to the forefront of many of his pictures, notably his second feature Before the Revolution (1964), which feels like the first real Bernardo Bertolucci film. The protagonist Fabrizio (Francesco Barilli) is torn between his comfortable middle-class existence and the radical Marxist politics of his fellow students, and we can view this character as a representative one for Bertolucci, who later said that his epic Novecento (1976) was partly motivated by his sense of shame at coming from a bourgeois family.

Read the rest of my obituary at Sight & Sound