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Over the weekend, a resurfaced interview of director Bernardo Bertolucci at the Cinematheque Francaise made headlines with outlets around the world claiming that the Oscar-winning director admitted to the “non-consensual” rape of Maria Schneider on the set of The Last Tango in Paris.
The video made it clear that Schneider was not made aware of graphic details of the shoot of the infamous butter rape scene until the day of the scene, as Bertolucci admitted that he and Brando had improvised the use of butter the morning of the shoot.
The wheelchair-bound director issued a statement in Italian on Monday, saying, “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 Cinematheque Francaise, 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. We wanted her spontaneous reaction to that improper [butter] use. That is where the misunderstanding lies.
“Somebody thought, and thinks, that Maria had not been informed about the violence on her. That is false! 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 has been outspoken about the simulated sex scene over the years, and gave a series of interviews in 2013 around the release of his film Me and You, also apologizing to Schneider for leaving the details of the scene unknown to her. It did not create such an outrage then, except in his native Italy, where headlines read “Bertolucci Confesses the Violence of Maria Schneider” and “Bertolucci Repents: I Misled Schneider.”
In the resurfaced interview, Bertolucci said of the butter scene: “It was in the script that he had to rape her in a way. And we were having with Marlon breakfast on the floor of the flat where we were shooting. And there was a baguette and there was butter, and we looked at each other and without saying anything, we knew what we wanted.
“But I’ve been, in a way, horrible to Maria, because I didn’t tell her what was going on, because I wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress. I wanted her to react humiliated, if it goes on, she shouts, ‘No, no!’ And I think that she hated me, and also Marlon, because we didn’t tell her, and there was that detail of the butter used as a lubricant, and I still feel very guilty for that.”
Over the weekend Hollywood took to Twitter to express outrage over the interview. Jessica Chastain called it a planned rape. Ava DuVernay said she was “horrified, disgusted,” by the resurfaced news. And Chris Evans tweeted, “They should be in jail,” referring to Brando and Bertolucci, although Brando died in 2004.
Schneider was 19 at the time she shot Last Tango in Paris with Bertolucci, one of cinema’s most infamously sexual directors, and the then 48-year-old Marlon Brando.
In a 2007 interview Schneider said of the butter scene, “That scene wasn’t in the original script. The truth is it was Marlon who came up with the idea. They only told me about it before we had to film the scene, and I was so angry.”
“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 was unprepared for the global attention the film brought her at a young age. She was never able to shake her association with the role, and often cited it as the cause for later downfall into a life of drug addiction and mental illness, claiming that people only saw her as a sex symbol and not a serious actress.
“Maria accused me of having robbed her of her youth,” Bertolucci said at the time. “In truth she was too young to sustain the impact of the unpredictable and brutal success of that film.”
The film, which resulted in an indecency trial in Italy for Bertolucci, garnered two Academy Award nominations for Bertolucci and Brando. Schneider went on to star in films with Michelangelo Antonioni and Franco Zeffirelli before her death in 2011.
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