From rural Italy to Imperial China, from torrid love affairs to political embroilments, Bernardo Bertolucci has made a career out of capturing the most puzzling facets of human nature and projecting them amidst vivid colors and stunning landscapes onto the big screen. The Pacific Film Archive's six-week retrospective of his oeuvre, which begins Friday, July 8, showcases both the range of Bertolucci's work and the motifs that run throughout his films.
The series' name, In Search of Mystery, is taken from the title of a poetry collection that won Bertolucci the Viareggio Literary Prize within a few days of his first film, The Grim Reaper, appearing at the Venice Film Festival. After that early success in both media, he stopped writing, but his films retain the suggestive and metaphoric qualities of poetry. Despite the strangeness and even perversity of many of his subjects, Bertolucci never seems interested in explaining people's motives or parsing their innermost thoughts. Instead, he delves into the mystery of the forces and instincts that drive not just individual lives but also politics, society, and even history.
His first films drew on the influence of other directors, most notably Pier Paolo Pasolini, a family friend and mentor. The young Bertolucci explored his native Italy, focusing on the influence of the country's troubled politics on already troubled individuals. In more recent years, his subjects have grown to epic proportions, encompassing entire swaths of history, but without losing the intense intimacy that gives his films their emotion and their edge.
Over the course of his career, Bertolucci has experimented with what movies can show, most notably with Last Tango in Paris, and with how they can show it. His actors are often cast in vivid, almost surreal washes of color or dwarfed by overwhelming spaces, whether the vast desert landscapes of The Sheltering Sky, the imposing façades of the Forbidden City in The Last Emperor, or the oppressive fascist architecture of The Conformist. Through exquisitely constructed sequences, Bertolucci illuminates his characters' desires and sketches richly moody narratives against these visually stunning backdrops.
"The Last Emperor"
The Pacific Film Archive's selection covers the arc of Bertolucci's career, including his first film and his latest, The Dreamers, a nostalgic look at 1968 Paris that lacks both the cinematic and the emotional scope of his earlier works. The Conformist, a masterpiece of controlled filmmaking and psychological-political entanglement, and 1900, an epic set against the sweep of Italian history and starring Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu, and Burt Lancaster, are especially worth seeing. The Last Emperor, the story of the end of China's Manchu Dynasty, filmed with extensive access to the Forbidden City, is a must-see on a big screen. All the films are new prints, and this is a special opportunity to appreciate the visual glory of Bertolucci's varied and complex oeuvre.
Bernardo Bertolucci: In Search of Mystery runs July 8 through August 18, 2011 at the Pacific Film Archive. For tickets and information visit http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/filmseries/bertolucci.