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Bertolucci Lashes Out At Studio Over Film Cuts

September 02, 2003|David Gritten | Special to The Times

VENICE, Italy — The distinguished Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci launched an angry attack on a Hollywood studio here Monday over its demands to make cuts in his controversial new film "The Dreamers."

Speaking at the Venice Film Festival, Bertolucci, 63, who won an Academy Award for "The Last Emperor" and who also caused a furor three decades ago with the sexually explicit "Last Tango in Paris," complained that executives at Twentieth Century Fox wanted to cut scenes involving sex and nudity for American audiences.

As a result, he said, the film was likely to be "amputated and mutilated" for its American release. "Some people obviously think the American public is immature," he added.

"The Dreamers," which was greeted with enthusiastic applause at a press screening here on Sunday evening, is set in Paris in 1968, a turbulent year when students and workers fought riot police in the streets. It centers on three movie-obsessed teenagers who meet and become friends at the French capital's legendary Cinematheque: an American, Matthew (played by Michael Pitt) and French twins Theo and Isabel (Louis Garrel and Eva Green).

Left to their own devices in the twins' apartment when their parents take a vacation, the young trio turn to role playing and sex games. All three actors are glimpsed in full frontal nude scenes, while others involve explicit sex. In one of the games, Matthew must make love to Theo's sister, who turns out to be a virgin. While he deflowers her on the kitchen floor, Theo stands at the stove, casually breaking and frying eggs.

The film was partially financed by Fox Searchlight, the studio's art-house and mid-budget subsidiary. "In May, Fox Searchlight received the film," said Bertolucci. "They were enthusiastic and began preparing trailers. Then in July something odd happened, like lightning out of the blue. They told [me and producer Jeremy Thomas] that Fox could not release the film as it was."

Hinting at a possible split in the ranks between Fox and its Searchlight subsidiary, Bertolucci added: "Jeremy and I were very surprised at this, because Fox Searchlight continued to say how happy they were to be able to distribute the film." Representatives for Fox or Fox Searchlight did not attend the press conference and were not available for comment Monday.

Bertolucci's contract with Fox stipulates that "The Dreamers" must receive an R rating in America. The director's uncut version would no doubt have received an NC-17 rating, a category all major studios now avoid because it makes it almost impossible to market a film.

The director made his comments at a press conference for the film Monday morning. His attack on the studio came as a surprise to his associates, even Thomas.

"In 1973, 'Last Tango In Paris' opened in America virtually uncut," Bertolucci said later in an interview. "There was only a 'formal cut' of about two seconds, just so someone could say they'd managed to cut me. But now they want to cut more out of this film. So what's going on there in America? This is not just a minor annoyance. If these cuts happen, the movie will lose some of its commercial appeal and strength."

Bertolucci has in the past been critical of Hollywood, saying he believes it creates a "monoculture" in the film world. But he denied that his comments criticizing the proposed cuts were anti-American, pointing out that Matthew, the only American in the film (which he co-wrote with Gilbert Adair) was a sympathetic character.

"I'm not anti-American, though I'm anti the present administration," said Bertolucci. "But it's too easy to simplify. In the '60s, when this film was set, there were a lot of Americans in the peace movement. And in the film, it's a French character who throws a Molotov cocktail. Now 35 years later it's the Americans who are making war and the French who are against war -- like masses of people in other countries who have demonstrated for peace."

At the press conference, actor Pitt, asked if he thought American audiences would be offended by the film's sex and nudity, said: "Unfortunately I fear they will not have the opportunity [to be offended], which I'm ashamed of. I think what they [the studio] are afraid of is that the youth will accept the film, given the opportunity."

Thomas, an Englishman whose relationship with Bertolucci as producer goes back to the 1980s, said: "The cuts we are talking about are in more than one scene and add up to less than a minute in a two-hour film. We're trying to understand what is needed. Something happened between us delivering the film and now.

"I don't see this film as being particularly difficult. But I'm a European, so my sensibilities are different from those of the American rating board."

He added that "The Dreamers" would certainly receive an 18 certificate (meaning only those over 18 can see the film) when it opens in Britain later this year. In Italy, it will receive a certificate allowing teenagers over 14 to see it.

The film will be seen in its original version in these countries but not in America. According to Thomas, Fox aims to release the film in the United States early in 2004.

Bertolucci is resigned to cuts being made in the film for American audiences. "Who knows?" he said sarcastically. "It may be better that way."

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