From January 6th-19th, TIFF Bell Lightbox is presenting a retrospective of the work of Bernardo Bertolucci, a director whose work has always hovered around the periphery of my vision. I’m looking forward to correcting that oversight. His filmmaking career has spanned 50 years and although he began working in a vaguely neorealist style, he quickly moved on to experiment with many other styles and a diversity of subject matter. The TIFF program guide has cleverly singled out his ever-present themes of “sex, politics and visual splendour” with a slightly naughty alliterative tagline: Fashion, Fascists and Fucking (or F**king, if you’re sensitive).
Although the Lightbox will be a grand venue to watch (or revisit) some of his most well-known films (The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor), the real opportunity is to see some of his lesser-known work. In particular, I’m looking forward to Before the Revolution (1964) and Partner (1968), two formative works from the turbulent 60s which led up to his breakthrough film The Conformist in 1970.
Leaving aside the Fashion (“visual splendour”) side of the triangle for a moment, I’m fascinated by Bertolucci’s mixture of sensuality and political frustration. While the 60s seem to be the decade most associated with sexual liberation and political struggle, the director has made almost all of his films about individuals struggling against larger forces and using sex as both a respite from the struggle and an act of personal defiance. I’m intrigued by TIFF programmer Jesse Wente’s observation that “Bertolucci continues to identify sex as a profoundly liberating force, a pure human freedom that defies the strictures and conventions of society.” I’m certain that approaching the films with at least this statement in mind is going to help me appreciate Bertolucci’s significance as a unique voice in world cinema.
Tickets can be purchased online for any of the films in the series. Here are a few images to whet your appetite: