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Films from Italian film master Bernardo Bertolucci

“Last Tango in Paris”, “The Conformist”, “The Last Emperor”….Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci is a master of controversy, never ceasing to surprise audiences with eye-opening storylines and arresting images. Eleven of his distinguished works produced from 1962 to 1998 will be shown in Hong Kong next month.

Presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and sponsored by Consulate General of Italy in Hong Kong, the retrospective “Bernardo Bertolucci” is part of the “Year of Italy in China 2006”. It is the first programme of the “Repertory Cinema 2006” series curated by Law Wai-ming. Two other retrospectives “German New Cinema of the 60s” and works of Japanese film director Terayama Shuji will be featured respectively in September and November.

The selection includes Bertolucci’s early works “The Grim Reaper” (1962) and “Before the Revolution”(1964), award-winning films “The Conformist” (1970), “Last Tango in Paris” (1972) and “The Last Emperor” (1987), “Luna” (1979) and “Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man” (1981) and the five hours masterpiece of “1900” (1976).

The films will be shown from July 4 to 12 at the Cinema of Hong Kong Film Archive, July 15 to 23 at the Lecture Hall of Hong Kong Space Museum and July 17 to 21 at the Lecture Hall of Hong Kong Science Museum.

A seminar entitled “The Complication of Bertolucci”, to be conducted in Cantonese, is scheduled for July 16 at 4 pm at the Lecture Hall of Hong Kong Space Museum.

Bertolucci belongs to the third generation of the post-war Italian directors. The beginning of his career coincided with the economic boom and the consequent rise of the new middle class in Italy. Following the transition of post-war Italian neo-Realism, Bertolucci depicted the malaise of western European intellectuals caught in the midst of social transition and disintegration of old values and systems.

Born in Parma, Bertulocci followed in his poet father’s footsteps and published an anthology of poetry that won a prestigious national literary award. He started his film career at the age of 21 as an assistant to film director Pier Paolo Pasolini.

He made his directing debut with “The Grim Reaper” which was based on a script by Pasolini. His second film “Before the Revolution” marked the first significant step in his artistic path.

Bertolucci’s themes transcend the conflict between Italian history and personal political consciousness. His films are full of tragedy showing the agony, madness, confusion and degeneration of self-imposed exiles.

The opening film “The Conformist” is a masterwork that won him international acclaim. A thriller about an intellectual who joins the Fascists and is handed an assassination assignment, the film flows with a non-linear narrative structure and mesmerises with Bertolucci’s signature lyrical images. It won Best Director Award at the Venice Film Festival 1970, the National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA in 1972, and the Journalists’ Special Award at the Berlin International Film Festival 1970.

Bertulocci won Best Director at the Oscars for his most disputed film “Last Tango in Paris”. Sensational eroticism, sensuous and passionate visual aesthetics and totally uninhibited dialogue on lust and the human condition, and with a brilliant performance by Marlon Brandon, the film proves the director’s absolute mastery of film language through the brilliant script and bravura cinematography.

After “Last Tango in Paris”, he secured sufficient funding to fulfill his dream epic, the 312-minute “1900” starring Robert De Niro and Gérard Depardieu. To Bertolucci, it is not merely a film but his political manifesto. Through the lives of a peasant and a landowner’s son and how their fates choose opposing political paths, Bertolucci condemns the hypocrisy of capitalism and glorifies humanism. The film won Best Director Award at Bodil Film Festival 1977.

What’s a mother to do if her only son becomes a junkie? In “Luna”, Bertolucci offers a universally accepted solution – love, but adopts a radical way. Another film full of surprise, the “Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man” exposes the selfishness of the bourgeoisie. The son of the owner of a cheese factory has been kidnapped, yet the father, with Anonk Aimée being his beautiful wife is deliberating his time to pay the ransom as he wants more chance to get close to his son’s gorgeous girlfriend!

Whether “The Last Emperor” is Bertolucci’s magnum opus is a matter of personal taste. It took Hollywood by storm and swept the board at the Oscars. With the hit theme music composed by Sakamoto Ryuichi, lavish costumes designed by Jim Acheson, superb performances by John Lone and Joan Chen, the film is a majestic pageant of stunning cinematography, music and art direction.

Bertolucci’s early works pulsate his youthful genius. His debut “The Grim Reaper” (1962) spins fives stories in Rashomon mode--each with its own version of “truth”. In “Before the Revolution”, charting the unconventional erotic love between a young radical and his middle-aged aunt, the director integrates his political ideology into the exploration of human nature.

With crafted script and ravishing colours, “Besieged” features a classical pianist who becomes besotted with his beautiful but melancholy domestic helper. She responds with a proposition – rescue her husband who is a political prisoner in Africa. The Bertoluccian hero is in Helmet’s shoes, taunted by the choice between physical gratification and romantic fulfillment.

Not to be missed are “The Spider’s Stratagem” (1970) and “The Sheltering Sky” (1990). The former is a thriller about a young man’s attempt to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding his long-deceased anti-facist work while “The Sheltering Sky” is an adaptation of Paul Bowles’ work, starring John Malkovich and Debra Winger.

“The Grim Reaper”, “Before the Revolution”, “The Spider’s Stratagem”, “1900”, “Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man” have English subtitles and other films are in English. “The Conformist” and “Luna” also have Chinese subtitles.

Tickets priced at $50 are available at all URBTIX outlets. Half-priced concessionary tickets are available for senior citizens, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients. There will be a 10% discount for each purchase of six to 10 tickets and a 20% for each purchase of 11 or more tickets.

For programme information, call 2734 2900 or visit . Reservations can be made at 2734 9009 or on the Internet at

Ends/Tuesday, June 20, 2006

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