A 2013 interview clip in which director Bernardo Bertolucci admits that he and star Marlon Brando conspired to keep details of a rape scene in Last Tango In Paris from Brando’s co-star Maria Schneider so that “her humiliation” and “her rage” would be genuine resurfaced yesterday, setting off a firestorm of controversy over the film’s content, legacy, and filming.
During the interview, Bertolucci says that he and Marlon Brando conceived at least one of the details of the film’s most infamous scene—in which Brando’s character anally rapes Schneider’s using a stick of butter as lubricant—the morning of the shooting, and concealed it from Schneider so that they could get her reaction as “a girl, instead of as an actress.”
“It’s an idea that I had with Marlon, in the morning, before shooting it,” Bertolucci says in the clip, apparently referring to the decision to include the butter in the scene, and to not tell Schneider that it was going to be used. (Bertolucci also said he “feels guilty” about the choice, but “does not regret” it, a comment someone should probably remind him of every time something bad happens to him for the rest of his life.)
More upsettingly, though, Schneider said she didn’t know about any the content of that day’s filming when she arrived on the set. In 2007, she told The Daily Mail, “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.”
The sex in Last Tango In Paris has generally been described as “simulated.” But that’s a hard concept to parse when a 19-year-old actress is being talked into an off-script, “simulated” rape scene—involving her pants being ripped off and her face pressed into the floor—by two powerful older men, working together to conceal information from her to maximize her humiliation and pain. “I felt humiliated, and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci,” said Schneider, who refused to do nude scenes after her experience shooting Last Tango and who died of cancer in 2011. “After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.”
A number of prominent celebrities have joined in the chorus of voices condemning Bertolucci and the film in the wake of the resurfaced information. Among them were Jessica Chastain and Chris Evans, who both spoke out passionately on Twitter: