Last Tango in Paris director Bernardo Bertolucci is speaking out amid the recent backlash over a controversial rape scene in the 1973 film.
In a recently resurfaced interview at La Cinémathèque Française in 2013, the director admitted that he and Marlon Brando came up with the idea for using butter as a lubricant for the rape scene that day — but chose not to tell the actress, Maria Schneider, about that element before shooting it.
The interview, which resurfaced online this weekend, sparked outraged, with celebrities like Jessica Chastain expressing disgust that the scene was sprung on the 19-year-old actress without her consent. “I feel sick,” the actress tweeted.
In a statement issued in Italian on Monday and reported by Variety, Bertolucci clarified his comments, 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 Cinemathèque Francaise someone asked me for details on the famous ‘butter scene,’ ” he continued. “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 use [of the butter]. That is where the misunderstanding lies.”
He added, “Somebody thought, and thinks, that Maria had not been informed about the violence on her. That is false!” Bertolucci explained, “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.”
Before her death in 2011, Schneider told the Daily Mail of the scene, “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.”
According to Variety, at the time of her death, Bertolucci told Italian news agency ANSA, “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.”