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No, Bertolucci. Last Tango in Paris scene is not cinema but documented rape

Durga M Sengupta | Updated on: 6 December 2016, 22:10 IST

It has been 44 years since Bernardo Bertolucci's Franco-Italian drama Last Tango in Paris was released. The Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider-starrer is in the news again now, due to a rape scene that was shot with butter but without the actress' consent.

Key players in this horrifying account, both Maria Schneider and Bernardo Bertolucci have, at different points of time, confirmed this incident to be true. While Schneider died of cancer in 2011, she had spoken about the scene in a 2007 interview with the Daily Mail, where she confessed that she felt "a little raped" after filming.

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"During the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn't real, I was crying real tears," she said. "I felt humiliated and, to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and Bertolucci."

"I was so angry," said Schneider, adding, "I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can't force someone to do something that isn't in the script, but at the time, I didn't know that. Marlon said to me: 'Maria, don't worry, it's just a movie.'"

Marlon Brando died three years prior to Schneider's comment, however, Bertolucci could confirm it. And in 2013, he did.

Bernardo Bertolucci

Bertolucci's original comment

In a 2013 video that has resurfaced on social media, the 76-year-old filmmaker can be heard flippantly commenting on the anal rape scene in Last Tango.

"The sequence of the butter is an idea that I had with Marlon in the morning before shooting," says Bertolucci, adding that he "wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress".

"I wanted her to react humiliated," he says. "I think she hated me and also Marlon because we didn't tell her."

Bertolucci, showing no remorse, explains his stance: "To obtain something I think you have to be completely free.

"I didn't want Maria to act her humiliation her rage, I wanted her to Maria to feel...the rage and humiliation. Then she hated me for all of her life."

Not that it reduces or heightens the seriousness of the crime, it is important to note that when the film was shot, Marlon Brando was a 48-year-old established actor, and Schneider a 19-year-old newcomer.

Bertolucci's latest comment

The interview, widely circulated on social media, has left Bertolucci in an answerable position, for abetting to rape, and then almost bragging about it. Prominent voices from the film industry have slammed his decision and lack of remorse over social media.

But instead of apologising, he has chosen to call the reports "a ridiculous misunderstanding". The filmmaker explains that Schneider knew about the violence, just not about the butter. He refuses to acknowledge this as sexual violence, and in the clear absence of consent, artistically documented rape at best.

In a statement released by Bertolucci in Italian, he says, "Several years ago at the Cinémathèque Francaise someone asked me for details on the famous butter scene. I specified, but perhaps I was not clear, that I decided with Marlon Brando not to inform Maria that we would have used butter.

Bertolucci insists that Schneider was in the know, and was only humiliated because of the butter.

"We wanted her spontaneous reaction to that improper use [of the butter]. That is where the misunderstanding lies. Somebody thought, and thinks, that Maria had not been informed about the violence on her. That is false!"

He insists that Schneider was in the know, and was only humiliated because of the butter. This despite the actress clearly stating that she felt raped in the past.

"Maria knew everything because she had read the script, where it was all described," reads the statement. "The only novelty was the idea of the butter. And that, as I learned many years later, offended Maria. Not the violence that she is subjected to in the scene, which was written in the screenplay."

Marlon Brando's son speaks up

Since Brando can no longer explain why he had a) not done anything to stop the violence, b) not informed his co-actor, c) carried out the violence, his son Miko Brando has spoken up in defence of his father.

"It's horrendous," Miko says in an interview to TMZ. "That's not my father. He wasn't that man. At all. He was for human rights, civil rights. He marched with Martin Luther King. He was for the people, not against the people."

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"It's not true," insists Miko, adding, "It's 40 years ago, but why are they bringing it up now? It's not true. That's not the human being he is."

As for Bertolucci's involvement in the scene, he distances himself and says, "I think he speaks for himself."

Marlon Brando himself never spoke about the incident, but it is safe to say he, despite his influence, was partisan.

A bleak picture

The incident says a thing or two about the value of a woman's rights in the film industry. To carry out an assault is terrible enough, but to then brandish it as a mark of creative genius that cannot be questioned, which Bertolucci has done, is worse.

And that's not the only disturbing aspect. To have Maria Schneider assaulted on camera without her in the know, to film it and distribute it, and have viewers consume it as cinema, is not very far from the rape videos that are circulated on WhatsApp today.

Had she been taken seriously, the world wouldn't be recoiling at this story a good five years later.

That she was penetrated with butter is not the end of it. When Schneider spoke up about the incident, her comment wasn't given enough attention. Had it been taken seriously, the world wouldn't be recoiling at this story a good five years later.

Her comment on her experience of abuse was clearly not important enough. After all, this was just 'some actress' who starred opposite THE Marlon Brando, making claims about a major film in her life, obviously looking for attention.

What's even more baffling is that Bertolucci's 2013 interview, two years after hers, where he verified her claims, also went unnoticed, possibly due to the lack of social media influence.

In fact, the only positive aspect to this story about a dead woman who cannot speak for herself anymore, is just that. That rape, even if it happened 44 years ago, is significant today. And those who perpetrated it are answerable to, if nothing else, the whole world's judgement.

First published: 6 December 2016, 22:10 IST
 
Durga M Sengupta @the_bongrel

Feminist and culturally displaced, Durga tries her best to live up to her overpowering name. She speaks four languages, by default, and has an unhealthy love for cheesy foods. Assistant Editor at Catch, Durga hopes to bring in a focus on gender politics and the role in plays in all our interactions.

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