Bertolucci was born on March 16, 1940 in Parma, Italy into an atmosphere of comfort and intellectualism. His father, a poet, anthologist, film critic and art history professor, encouraged Bernardo's childhood interest in films by frequently taking him to film screenings. At the age of fifteen Bertolucci made two short films about children, but was also gaining respect throughout Italy as a writer. His first book, In Search of Mystery (In Cerca del Mistero), won the Premio Viareggio, one of the top literary awards in Italy. At the University of Rome (1958-1961) Bertolucci began his film career as an assistant director to Pier Paolo Pasolini. Following his work on Pasolini's Accattone, Bertolucci left the University of Rome without graduating and embarked on an independent study of film.
Bernardo Bertolucci's first feature film, The Grim Reaper (La Commare Seca), was filmed on location in Rome in 1962. Before the Revolution (Prima della Rivoluzione), his second feature film, did no better commercially than The Grim Reaper, but won him recognition at the Cannes Film Festival in 1964. For a period of about five years Bertolucci was not able to raise funds for another feature length film, but instead directed a number of documentaries and helped director Julian Beck with some of his productions. His next film, The Spider's Strategem (La Strategia del Ragno), was regarded as an improvement over his first two feature films, however it was not until the release of The Conformist (Il Conformista) in 1970 that Bertolucci's directorial excellence became evident. The film deals with Fascist Italy under Mussolini and is both artistic and intellectual with a twisty, non-linear narrative that concludes on the evening of Mussolini's ousting from office. Two years later Bertolucci directed The Last Tango in Paris (Ultimo Tango a Parigi), an erotic film starring Marlon Brando which opened the door to eroticism in general-release films. Bertolucci's later films include 1900 (Novecento), the powerful film Luna, and The Last Emperor, an epic tale of the deposed last emperor of China, which won nine Academy Awards including best film and best director. His most recent film, entitled Stealing Beauty (Ballo da Sola), stars the up and coming actress Liv Tyler.
Compiled by Daniel Bradbury