Bernardo Bertolucci responds to 'Last Tango in Paris' backlash over rape scene

ROME – Reacting to outrage over reports he and Marlon Brando conspired against actress Maria Schneider while filming a notorious rape scene in "Last Tango in Paris," Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci said Monday that the brewing scandal was based on a "ridiculous misunderstanding" of what actually happened.

Reports over the weekend centered on a resurfaced video of a 2013 masterclass given by Bertolucci in Paris. In the video, the Oscar-winning auteur talks about the scene in his 1972 film in which Brando's character uses a stick of butter as a lubricant to simulate sex with Schneider, who was 19 at the time. "I had been, in a way, horrible to Maria because I didn't tell her what was going on," Bertolucci says on the tape.

Several celebrities reacted angrily to Bertolucci's comments, including actress Jessica Chastain, who called the scene a planned sexual attack on a 19-year-old young woman. "I feel sick," Chastain tweeted. Others called for Bertolucci to be stripped of his awards.

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(Original Caption) Towards the end of the movie The Last Tango in Paris, Marlon Brando has fallen in love with Jeanne (Marie Schneider) and pursues her throughout Paris streets, comes into a dance hall looking for her, weaving his way through couples entered in a professional tango contest. He finds her at a corner table, joins her, they get a little drunk. She runs away from him again, and he catches her, and they do an impromptu dance amidst the professional dancers, by now fairly drunk.
(Original Caption) Closeup of Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris. Undated movie still.
(Original Caption) Towards the end of the movie The Last Tango in Paris, Marlon Brando has fallen in love with Jeanne (Marie Schneider) and pursues her throughout Paris streets, comes into a dance hall looking for her, weaving his way through couples entered in a professional tango contest. He finds her at a corner table, joins her, they get a little drunk. She runs away from him again, and he catches her, and they do an impromptu dance amidst the professional dancers, by now fairly drunk.
(Original Caption) Actor Marlon Brando dances with actress Maria Schneider in the 1973 United Artists Film, 'Last Tango in Paris'. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Undated movie still. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
Paris, FRANCE : Scene of the film the Last Tango in Paris, in 1972 in which Marlon BRANDO playing an American who lives with passion a love story with a parisian girl played by Maria SCHNEIDER.(Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images )
French actress Maria Schneider and American actor Marlon Brando on the set of Ultimo tango a Parigi (Last tango in Paris) written and directed by Italian Bernardo Bertolucci. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
French actor Maria Schneider sits in a bathtub in a still from the film, 'Last Tango In Paris,' directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972. (Photo by United Artists/Courtesy of Getty Images)
French actress Maria Schneider (1952 - 2011) as Jeanne in 'Last Tango In Paris', directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Towards the end of the movie The Last Tango in Paris, Marlon Brando has fallen in love with Jeanne (Marie Schneider) and pursues her throughout Paris streets, comes into a dance hall looking for her, weaving his way through couples entered in a professional tango contest. He finds her at a corner table, joins her, they get a little drunk. She runs away from him again, and he catches her, and they do an impromptu dance amidst the professional dancers, by now fairly drunk.
Actors Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in a scene from the movie 'Last Tango in Paris', 1972. (Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)
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In Monday's statement, issued in Italian, Bertolucci said: "I would like, for the last time, to clear up a ridiculous misunderstanding that continues to generate press reports about "Last Tango in Paris" around the world."

"Several years ago at the Cinematèque Francais 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," he noted. "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!"

Bertolucci added that "Maria knew everything because she had read the script, where it was all described. 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," Bertolucci added.

Schneider died in 2011, at age 58, reportedly of cancer.

Before her death, she had spoken out about the scene, including in an interview with the Daily Mail in which she said, "I felt humiliated and, to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn't console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take."

In an interview with Italian news agency ANSA when Schneider died, Bertolucci said: "Her death came too soon, before I could tenderly hug her again, tell her that I felt close to her like the first day, and at least once, say I was sorry."

"The strong creative rapport we had during the 'Last Tango' shoot had been poisoned with the passing of time," he added to ANSA.

"Maria accused me of having robbed her of her youth and only today I wonder whether there wasn't some truth to that.

"In truth she was too young to sustain the impact with the unpredictable and brutal success of that film."

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