In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Bernardo Bertolucci

  • Introduction
  • Biographical Overviews and Catalogues
  • Critical Monographs, Anthologies, and Journal Issues Dedicated to Bertolucci
  • General Studies Devoted to Bertolucci
  • Bertolucci and Psychoanalysis
  • Bertolucci’s Writings
  • Selected Interviews and Statements
  • Visual Material

Cinema and Media Studies Bernardo Bertolucci
Torunn Haaland
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0249


By the time Bernardo Bertolucci (b. 1941–d. 2018) embarked on his first feature, The Grim Reaper (1962), he had shot two amateur documentaries, started and abandoned a literature degree, written the award-winning poetry collection In cerca del mistero (In search of mystery, 1962), and collaborated as Pasolini’s assistant on Accattone. Inherent in the experimentation with different registers and sources of inspiration there were, in nuce, the eclecticism that would position him so distinctly within the European art cinema and enable him, at the same time, to reach vast spheres of spectators. A panoramic view over Bertolucci’s sixteen features will, nonetheless, allow to identify in particular three lines of continuity: Marxist and Freudian thought, intertextual and epic narratives, and interpersonal and intercultural explorations. These elements tend to merge within individual works and have considerably shaped the critical literature. If it was the radical perspectives of Pasolini and, especially, Godard, that immediately drew critics’ attention to Before the Revolution, then the psychoanalytical vein of The Conformist and The Spider’s Stratagem conveys a search for autonomy that unfolds along self-reflexive dramatizations of ambiguities within Italy’s fascist past. This revisionist perspective assumes more explicitly Marxist tones in 1900, which adopts epic structures to represent class struggle and antifascist resistance in agrarian Italy during the first half of the 20th century. Both the careful narrative and psychological constructions and the emphasis on perceptive communication in these works encapsulate Bertolucci’s search for a distinct cinematic discourse, but it was the abandonment in Last Tango in Paris of ideological passions for passionless eroticism that finally declared his liberation from cinematic fathers. The provocative material caused polemical debates and legal obstacles, but the intentions, beyond the immediate scandal, would rather have been to question existing limits of cinematic representations. This appears clearer in light of later projects such as The Last Emperor, which starts from a pioneering Western-Chinese collaboration to demonstrate the cinema’s potentials as a mediator in intercultural exchanges. Both the attention to historical accuracy and the spectacular aesthetics convey, more specifically, a dedication to Oriental cultures that resonates in Little Buddha, which Bertolucci arranged to screen at a fundraiser event in Rome following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. The commitment to promote cross-cultural understanding and solidarity informs, however, also less ambitious works such as The Sheltering Sky and Besieged. In both, the Western-African encounter unleashes silences, ambiguities, and intuitions, thus privileging the search for life’s mysteries that Bertolucci pursued from his artistic debut as a poet. The geographical anchorage of these films also emblematizes the distances his oeuvre has covered from his native town of Parma to spheres of urban sophistication and faraway civilizations. Bertolucci’s last feature, I and You, was released in 2012. When the director passed away six years later, he was commemorated as “an extraordinary director of visually outstanding cinema” (Concannon 2018, cited under Biographical Overviews and Catalogues) and as “a unicum” known for an oeuvre “so composite, so diversified, so exceptionally powerful” (di Paolo 2019, cited under Critical Monographs, Anthologies, and Journal Issues Dedicated to Bertolucci; author’s translation of the original).

Biographical Overviews and Catalogues

The most substantial biographical studies of Bertolucci are provided in Socci 2008, which examines, documents, and illustrates each of his films, and Campani 1998, wherein the director’s life is seen in light of his oeuvre and the evolution of his cinematic vision. The well-organized survey Bondanella 2009 highlights sources of inspiration and the various stages of Bertolucci’s career, and Wood 2002, a succinct overview, emphasizes his films’ wider context and the critical traditions they have generated. Certain overviews are associated with exhibitions dedicated to Bertolucci and appear in the format of catalogues: Campari and Schiaretti 1994 examines the journey as a topos in Bertolucci’s work; Baroni and d’Ubaldo 2007 synthesizes its audiovisual and promotional aspects; and Garofalo 2010 presents an essay accompanied by illustrations and biographical presentations of the director and central collaborators. Concannon 2018 revisits the director’s career following his passing on 26 October 2018.

  • Baroni, Maurizio, and Marco d’Ubaldo. Bernardo Bertolucci. Milan: Mediane, 2007.

    Composed of stills, original posters, and rare on-set pictures, the volume surveys Bertolucci’s oeuvre up until The Dreamers. A discussion of the painters behind the films’ promotional posters, and a CD with original tracks from major works, are included. Bilingual Italian and English.

  • Bondanella, Peter. “Myth, Marx and Freud in Pier Paolo Pasolini and Bernardo Bertolucci.” In A History of Italian Cinema. By Peter Bondanella, 416–452. New York: Continuum, 2009.

    This comprehensive overview outlines the start to and successive phases of Bertolucci’s career as well as the themes he most frequently has treated. Each film is addressed with specific regard to intellectual influences, sources of inspiration, narrative characteristics, and conditions of production.

  • Campani, Ermelinda M. L’Anticonformista: Bernardo Bertolucci e il suo cinema. Fiesole, Italy: Edizioni Cadmo, 1998.

    This essential study traces the stylistic and thematic evolution of Bertolucci’s cinema and draws insightful parallels to biographical events. Central themes, including the director’s relation to neorealism; his ideological elaboration and psychological introspection; and recurrent concerns with journeys, death, and father figures, are also discussed. In Italian.

  • Campari, Roberto, and Maurizio Schiaretti, eds. In viaggio con Bernardo: Il cinema di Bernardo Bertolucci. Venice: Marsilio, 1994.

    Published in occasion of an exhibition held in Parma in 1994, this succinct overview situates Bertolucci’s oeuvre within the contemporary cinematic context and investigates the journey as a thematic concern originally established in his poetry. The catalogue also presents shorter examinations of his films up until Little Buddha. In Italian.

  • Concannon, Philip. “Bernardo Bertolucci Obituary: An Extraordinary Director of Visually Outstanding Cinema.” British Film Institute, 28 November 2018.

    Starting from Bertolucci’s description of himself as a “son of art,” the author emphasizes the director’s prodigious start as an amateur poet and filmmaker before tracing the development of his emblematically sensual style and international critical acclaim. The illustrated commentary and contextualization of the director’s features acknowledges the less inspired and less successful moments of his career as well as the films that, due to health-related inactivity, never saw light.

  • Garofalo, Marcello, ed. Bertolucci: Images. Milan: Silvana Editoriale, 2010.

    Featuring the Museum of Modern Art exhibition Bertolucci Images presented between 2010 and 2011, this comprehensive catalogue showcases stills and production photos from Bertolucci’s films including his documentary La via del petrolio. A short essay, a complete filmography, and bibliographies of Bertolucci and his cinematographers are included. Bilingual Italian and English.

  • Socci, Stefano. Bernardo Bertolucci. Milan: Castoro, 2008.

    Published in its third edition, this authoritative and systematic examination spans and illustrates Bertolucci’s career from The Grim Reaper to The Dreamers. Besides selected statements and a 2003 interview with Bertolucci, the author also includes a bibliography, a complete filmography, and production credits. In Italian.

  • Wood, Mary. “Bernardo Bertolucci in Context.” In Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers. Edited by Yvonne Tasker, 40–51. London: Routledge, 2002.

    This informative survey outlines the appropriate cultural and industrial context of Bertolucci’s films up to Besieged. Attention is also paid to critical traditions informed by Marxism and psychoanalysis and to the director’s recurrent concern with identities and space.

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