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Dreamy travels with Bertolucci

A 14-film retrospective includes the director's sexually charged 'Last Tango in Paris' with Marlon Brando.

July 11, 2004|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Though numerous Italian actors from Rudolph Valentino to Sophia Loren have found success in American movies, Italian directors haven't been so lucky. Remember Vittorio De Sica's misguided comedy "Women Times Seven," with Shirley MacLaine, and his sappy romance "A Place for Lovers" with Faye Dunaway and Marcello Mastroianni?

During his 30-plus year career, Federico Fellini didn't attempt to make a film in English, though he often cast English-speaking actors such as Anthony Quinn and Broderick Crawford in his movies. And Luchino Visconti tapped Hollywood stars the likes of Farley Granger and Burt Lancaster for his lavish Italian dramas.

Bernardo Bertolucci's English-language projects have been a mixed lot at best, but he's the only Italian filmmaker to win both an Academy Award and a Directors Guild of America award for best director, for 1987's "The Last Emperor." An exquisite period epic, "The Last Emperor" is just one of the 14 films featured in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's film department's retrospective, "Dreaming Cinema: The Films of Bernardo Bertolucci." The festival kicks off Friday at the Leo S. Bing Theater with his two earliest films, 1964's "Before the Revolution" and his rarely screened directorial debut, 1962's "La Commare Secca" (The Grim Reaper).

Among the other noteworthy films: "The Conformist," "The Spider Stratagem," "1900," "Stealing Beauty" and "Besieged," as well as his most recent film, the NC-17 drama, "The Dreamers."

The Bertolucci retrospective has taken on an unexpected poignancy with the July 1 death of Marlon Brando, who starred in the director's landmark drama "Last Tango in Paris." Back in 1973, the X-rated, sexually explicit drama caused a maelstrom of controversy that makes the recent publicity for "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "The Passion of the Christ" look tame."Tango," which screens July 23 in a new 35-mm print courtesy of MGM, marked Brando's last truly sexually charged performance and won him his final best actor Oscar nomination. With his unruly mane of whitish-blond hair and rumpled trench coat, Paul, an American in Paris who's trying to cope with his wife's suicide, is one of life's losers. But when he enters into a strictly carnal relationship with a free-spirited young woman (Maria Schneider), he seems to find himself again. That is, until he falls in love with the young woman and tries to carry on their relationship outside the gloomy apartment where they have their explosive trysts.

An X-rated foray

The concept of the film, Bertolucci has said, came out of a dream of "seeing a beautiful, nameless woman on the street and having sex with her without knowing who she was."

"Last Tango" marked Bertolucci's first Oscar nomination for best director -- he lost to George Roy Hill for "The Sting" -- and the last time a director was nominated in that category for an X-rated film. (The film probably wouldn't have gotten the press with his original cast choices -- Jean-Louis Trintignant and Dominque Sanda, who had starred in his 1970 classic, "The Conformist.")

"Last Tango" also features Jean-Pierre Leaud as Schneider's obnoxious fiancee (Leaud also makes a cameo in "The Dreamers"), the late Italian heartthrob Massimo Girotti and Catherine Allegret, the daughter of Simone Signoret. After the film was released in Europe in 1972, Bertolucci, producer Alberto Grimaldi and the two stars were indicted in a court in Bologna, for making "utilitarian pornography." Though they were all acquitted, Bertolucci briefly lost his voting rights.


"Dreaming Cinema: The Films of Bernardo Bertolucci'

Where: Leo S. Bing Theater

When: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. (unless noted)

Ends: Aug. 14

Price: $9 for general admission; $6 for LACMA members, seniors and students with a valid ID.

Contact: (310) 857-6010 or go to


"Before the Revolution," "The Grim Reaper," Friday; "The Conformist" (also at 9:45 p.m.), Saturday; "Last Tango in Paris," July 23; "The Spider's Stratagem," "Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man," July 24; "The Last Emperor," July 30; "Luna," July 31; "Partner," "Besieged," Aug. 6; "1900," Aug. 7, 5 p.m.; "The Sheltering Sky," Aug. 13; "The Dreamers," "Stealing Beauty," Aug. 14.

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