Bernardo Bertolucci • Director
by Giovanni Bogani
08/07/2003 - The director has just wrapped The Dreamers about the May 1968 Paris protests. "It's a portrayal of Utopia and the enthusiasm that fired that time"
FIESOLE - May 1968: a veritable Utopia of free love, eroticism, freedom, slogans, the wildness of adolescence, desire, politics and a love of cinema. That, in synthesis, is The Dreamers [+see also:
film profile], the latest film by Bernardo Bertolucci. Made on location in Paris, The Dreamers wrapped a few weeks ago and is ready to be presented at the forthcoming Venice Film Festival. In the meantime, Bertolucci was the guest of honour in Fiesole, where tonight, Roberto Benigni will present him with the prestigious Fiesole Award that celebrates Masters of Cinema. Benigni came to Fiesole almost incognito, delighted to have been asked to honour his friend and fellow director: Bertolucci gave Benigni a small part in La Luna. The evening was also the perfect occasion to see an excerpt from The Dreamers. It was also the first time that Bertolucci spoke about this new film of his.
“I portray Utopia, the enthusiasm that fired those months, that era,” said the director. “I’m not interested in history with a capital “H”. Or rather, what history there is in inherent in the story of the three protagonists who experience all of this together. Enthusiastically. With all the enthusiasm that typified that time, something that I think no longer exists. This film is not an autobiography: in 1968 I was 27 years old and not 18. I experienced the events by reading and listening to Pierre Clémenti, an actor whom I adore, and with whom I was making a film called Partner in Rome. Every weekend Clémenti would fly to Paris and every Monday, he would return and tell us all the wonderful things that were happening in the World of May. He recited the slogans for us. There is one in particular that I remember, a marvellous one that goes: “sous le pavè, la plage”. Under the pavé, the pavements of Paris, lies the beach. For me, that sums up the poetry of those years.”
Did you use it in your film?
“Yes. It was too good to let go. I use it in the scene at the Sorbonne, where it appeared in the spring of 1968.”
Is there a link between those years and the contemporary no-global movement? Did you feel any bond? Did, for example, the events surrounding the G8 Summit in Genoa influence your film in any way?
“This film has always been a part of me; it’s a story that I felt 100 per cent involved in. So I was not influenced by present-day events. From another point of view, however, I must admit that there is one scene that portrays the police bearing down on demonstrators. While I was editing that sequence, I thought about Genoa. And I extended the sequence and made it more ferocious and intolerable. Perhaps that is how the present insinuated itself into a film that I’d been carrying around with me for years.”
Following your “American” and international phases characterised by films like The Last Emperor, The Sheltering Sky and Little Buddha, you returned to Italy to make small and intense films like Stealing Beauty and The Siege. Now you have returned to France, your first love in terms of cinema...
“It was a love affair that owed everything to the Nouvelle Vague. I gave my first interview to Rome-based journalists in 1960. In Rome. And I asked: “Shall we do the interview in French?” Why, they asked. Ma par-ce-que français c’est la langue du cinéma! (Because the language of cinema is French! - Editor’s note) I replied with misplaced enthusiasm. Well, it took me thirty years to make up with the press!”
What is your opinion of contemporary Italy?
“Good, if we are talking about cinema. For many years I felt that Italian cinema was in the grips of a slow and inexorable death throe. Things appear to have improved over the last two years. Films like Respiro, The Embalmer and Angela reconcile me with Italian cinema. If the subject under discussion is Italian politics, then I have felt extremely ill-at-ease for the last two years. I think that the Italian government is going against the ideal that guided me for all these years; a falling-in-love between cultures, and an interest and enchantment in all that is different from us. Weeks ago I voiced my worst fears: that the “Great Communicator” might become accepted by the rest of Europe. That the blindness that has hit Italy when Berlusconi appeared on the scene would hit other countries.”
“Now Berlusconi himself freed me of that nightmare with the performance he gave the other day. In return I have a new nightmare: listening to Berlusconi speak, it was like hearing Bossi. As though Bossi had taken possession of Berlusconi and spoke through him. As you see, there’s always a new nightmare waiting for you out there...”