One of the most notorious scenes in cinema history, the Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider butter rape scene in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, is making headlines once again, 44 years after the film's debut.
In a recently resurfaced video interview from 2013, Bertolucci confirms that Schneider, who died in 2011, did not know the details of the rape scene ahead of time, and that the graphic nature of the scene was improvised on set.
“We were having, with Marlon, breakfast on the floor of the flat where I was shooting. There was a baguette, there was butter and we looked at each other and, without saying anything, we knew what we wanted,” the director said then. “I had been, in a way, horrible to Maria because I didn’t tell her what was going on.”
Bertolucci said he felt guilty about how he treated Schneider, but does not regret the scene.
Nothing in the resurfaced video is news as the director has been very vocal about his filming of the scene and how it affected Maria Schneider in multiple interviews over the years, most recently during a press tour for his last film Me and You, during which the YouTube video interview was shot.
Bertolucci expressed roughly the same sentiment in a 2013 interview with The Telegraph: “No, I don’t feel guilty, but when she died I thought, God, I’m so sorry that I can’t apologize for what Marlon and I did with that scene and we decided not to tell her. Her sense of humiliation was very real, but I think what really offended her was that she didn’t feel she’d been allowed to prepare for the scene as an actress. But I wanted her reaction as a person, not as an actress.”
Celebrities voiced their disgust at the resurfaced news on Twitter. Jessica Chastain said of the revelations, “The director planned her attack. I feel sick," while Chris Evans tweeted that Bertolucci and Brando "should be in jail.” Ava DuVernay wrote, "As a woman, I am horrified, disgusted and enraged by it."
See more reactions below.
Anna Kendrick noted that Schneider's lack of knowledge of the scene prior to the shooting day was nothing new. “Ms Schneider stated this several years ago. I used to get eye-rolls when I brought it up to people (aka dudes),” she tweeted.
"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,” Schneider said in a 2007 Daily Mail interview.
She continued, "Marlon said to me: 'Maria, don't worry, it's just a movie,' but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn't real, I was crying real tears. … I felt very sad because I was treated like a sex symbol — I wanted to be recognized as an actress and the whole scandal and aftermath of the film turned me a little crazy and I had a breakdown."
Schneider added, "I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci.”
The actress claims that the late Brando also felt taken advantage of by Bertolucci, so it was easy to imagine how the experience affected the young actress. “Marlon said he felt raped and manipulated by it and he was 48,” she said. “And he was Marlon Brando!"
It’s also well known that Schneider, who struggled with drug addiction and mental health issues, has blamed the infamous film for the downhill trajectory of her life. She went on to star in renowned films including Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger, but said she was unable to get past the notoriety that came with starring in Bertolucci’s film.
Last Tango in Paris was critically lauded but surrounded in public controversy. Bertolucci was put on trial for obscenity in Italy after the release of the movie. Copies of the film were destroyed at the time and Bertolucci was served with a four-month suspended sentence and denied his civil (including voting) rights for five years. Last Tango earned Brando a best actor Oscar nomination and Bertolucci a best director nomination.