‘Last Tango in Paris’ rape scene is enraging a new generation of viewers

Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in "Last Tango in Paris." (Screen shot. YouTube).

A brutal rape scene from the 1972 film Last Tango in Paris has become the subject of heated criticism after a Spanish non-profit published a 2013 interview of director Bernardo Bertolucci talking about the scene.

Last Tango in Paris centers on the sexual relationship between a middle-aged widower, played by Marlon Brando, and a young French woman, played by Maria Schneider. In the resurfaced interview, Bertolucci said that he and Brando decided to make an addition to the script: Brando’s character would use a stick of butter as lubricant during the rape scene. But neither Brando nor Bertolucci told Schneider, who was just 19 at the time, of their plans.

“I’ve been, in a way, horrible to Maria because I didn’t tell her what was going on, because I wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress,” Bertolucci said. “I wanted her to react humiliated.

“I think that she hated me, and also Marlon, because we didn’t tell her, and there was that detail of the butter used as a lubricant, and I still feel very guilty for that,” he added.

Before her death in 2011, Schneider had been vocal about the sense of violation she felt after that scene. In 2007, she told The Daily Mail that she felt “humiliated” and “a little raped by Marlon and by Bertolucci.”

“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,” she said. “Marlon said to me: ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie,’ but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears.”

But the incident failed to garner widespread attention until last week, when the Spanish nonprofit El Mundo de Alycia published Bertolucci’s interview on its website, in advance of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Nov. 25. English outlets picked up the story, and Hollywood directors and actors sounded their outrage on social media.

“To all the people that love this film- you’re watching a 19yr old get raped by a 48yr old man,” Jessica Chastain wrote, for example. “The director planned her attack. I feel sick.”

When actor Chris Evans tweeted that he will “never look at this film, Bertolucci or Brando the same way again,” Anna Kendrick responded, ““I used to get eye-rolls when I brought it up to people (aka dudes).” Later, she added, “Glad at least it will be taken seriously now.”

Read more at The Washington Post.

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