Award-winning Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci passed away after a short spell with cancer. He was 77-years old. He had been immobile since 2003 following an unsuccessful surgery on a herniated disc. The surgery rendered him paralyzed and confined him to a wheelchair.

In a filmmaking career that initiated in the early 60s, Bernardo Bertolucci became a prominent figure of the extraordinary Italian new wave, alongside eminent filmmakers such as Antonioni, Fellini, and Pasolini. However, unlike his contemporaries, Bertolucci made a smooth transition to the opulent Hollywood style of filmmaking with The Last Emperor in 1987. The film won nine Oscars, including best picture and best director for Bertolucci.

The Art of Bernardo Bertolucci

Bertolucci was born in Parma in 1941. Being the son of a poet and teacher, he grew up in a literary and artistic atmosphere. His father Attilio was friends with Pier-Paolo Pasolini, then a novelist and poet. Bertolucci’s big break happened when Pasolini hired him as his assistant on his 1961 debut, Accattone. Bertolucci was 20-years old at that time. He finally made his directorial debut in 1962 with La Commare Secca (The Skinny Reaper). He was recommended by Pasolini to work as the screenwriter on this film.

Bernardo Bertolucci also worked as a writer Sergio Leone’s epic spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West. However, he achieved his real breakthrough with Before the Revolution (1964), a Parma-set account of a Marxist student’s affair with his aunt. This was followed by the highly influential The Conformist (1970), both of which foregrounded Bertolucci’s commitment to radical left-wing politics.

This marked the beginning of Bertolucci’s collaboration with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. Their partnership rendered stark visual prowess to Bertolucci’s films. Together they created a string of visually compelling masterpieces, including The Spider’s Stratagem (1970), Last Tango in Paris (1972) and 1900 (1976).

Last Tango, starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, made Bertolucci internationally renowned and a tad bit notorious. Owing to its bold content, the film was banned in many countries. However, this notoriety granted him the privilege to cast big stars including Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu and Burt Lancaster for his 300-minute epic 1900.

Me and You, Bertolucci’s swan song, was adapted from a novel by Niccolò Ammaniti. The film made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012.

Bernardo Bertolucci had been married since 1978 to film-maker Clare Peploe. The couple had no children.