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Bernardo Bertolucci, Director of ‘Last Emperor,’ Dies at 77

LOS ANGELES – Oscar-winning Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, who directed the Academy Award-winning “The Last Emperor,” has died at age 77.

Known for the films “The Conformist” and “Last Tango in Paris,” in which he examined politics and sexuality through a personal style of storytelling and his own unique camera work has died of cancer at his home in Rome today, his publicist Flavia Schiavi has confirmed.

Bertolucci’s greatest work was “The Last Emperor,” an adaptation of the autobiography of China’s last imperial ruler, Pu Yi, which swept the 1987 Academy Awards where it won best picture and best director and in every category in which it was nominated.

“The Last Emperor” was the first feature film to be authorized by the government of the People's Republic of China to be filmed in the Forbidden City. Bertolucci had proposed the film to the Chinese government as one of two possible projects. The other film was La Condition Humaine by André Malraux. The Chinese government preferred The Last Emperor, and made no restrictions on the content. The Last Emperor became the first western film made in China and about the country to be produced with full Chinese government cooperation since 1949.

Bertolucci initially wished to become a poet like his father. With this goal in mind, he attended the Faculty of Modern Literature of the University of Rome in 1958, where his film career as an assistant director to Pasolini began. Bertolucci later left the University without graduating. In 1962, at the age of 22, he directed his first feature film, called “La commare secca” (1962). The film is a murder mystery, following a prostitute's homicide. He followed it with his acclaimed “Before the Revolution” (Prima della rivoluzione) in 1964.

In the 1970s due to a bad Italian economy, directors were forced to co-produce their films with several of the American, Swedish, French, and German companies and actors.

Bertolucci caused controversy in 1972 with his film “Last Tango in Paris,” starring Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Jean-Pierre Léaud and Massimo Girotti. The film tells the story of Brando's character, Paul who copes with his wife’s suicide by emotionally and physically dominating a young woman, Jeane, played by Schneider. The depictions of Schneider, who was then 19, were regarded as exploitative. In one scene, Paul anally rapes Jeane using butter as a lubricant. But using butter was not in the script originally. Bertolucci ultimately was prosecuted in Italy and received a four-month suspended prison sentence, but had his civil rights suspended for five years.

In 1996, he directed “Stealing Beauty,” then “The Dreamers” in 2003, which describes the political passions and sexual revolutions of two siblings in 1968 Paris.

In 2007, Bertolucci received the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival for his a lifetime of acclaimed work and in 2011 he also received the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

In his final film, 2012’s “Me and You” was screened out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival and was released early in 2013 in the UK. Written by written by Bertolucci himself, Umberto Contarello and Niccolò Ammaniti, the film is an adaptation of Niccolò Ammaniti's young-adult's book “Io e te” (You and Me).

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