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Cannes relives infamous rape in 'Last Tango in Paris'

By AFP

May 22, 2024 09:54 AM


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As France reels from a renewed #MeToo reckoning, a new film transports audiences back to the early 1970s when directors were all-powerful and the consent of their actresses was the last thing on their mind.

"Being Maria", which premiered out of competition in Cannes, revisits one of the most infamous rape scenes in cinema -- Marlon Brando's butter-based sexual assault in the 1972 film "Last Tango in Paris".

French director Jessica Palud said her own experience decades later inspired her to make the film. "I worked as an assistant on several films, I saw things on sets -- humiliated actors, ways of working that struck me," Palud, 42, told AFP.

"Being Maria" follows Maria Schneider's rise to fame after Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci cast her in "Last Tango in Paris", and its impact on her life and career.

In the notorious "butter scene", Schneider, who was 19 at the start of shooting, is depicted as being anally raped by the middle-aged Brando on a Paris apartment floor with the aid of a lump of butter.

"Being Maria" stars Matt Dillon as Brando, while Anamaria Vartolomei -- who broke out in the abortion drama "Happening" -- plays Schneider as an aspiring actress not fully briefed about how the scene will play out.

- 'Humiliated' -

"What I wanted to understand was what she felt," said Palud, who herself started out as a 19-year-old crew member on the set of another racy Bertolucci film, "The Dreamers", in 2003.

She said she tracked down the original script for "Last Tango in Paris", which was banned in several countries and sparked a popular myth that the scene was real.

"The scene wasn't written," said Palud.

While the sex was simulated, it later emerged that Schneider had been kept in the dark about what was to happen by Brando and Bertolucci, who were both nominated for Oscars.

"Even though what Marlon was doing wasn't real, I was crying real tears," Schneider later said.

"I felt humiliated and to be honest I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn't console me or apologise. Thankfully, there was just one take."

Despite a career of some 50 films, she remained traumatised by "Last Tango in Paris", and attempted suicide.

- 'Men my age' -

In 2016, Bertolucci told Elle magazine he did not tell Schneider about the infamous scene because he "wanted her reaction as a girl not as an actress", sparking outrage.

"To all the people that love this film -- you're watching a 19yr old get raped by a 48yr old man," Jessica Chastain wrote on Twitter.

In a 1976 documentary titled "Be Pretty and Shut Up", 23-year-old Schneider recounted working in a male-dominated industry.

"The producers are men, the technicians are men, the directors are men... The agents are men and I feel they have subjects for men," she said.

The actor, who had just filmed "The Passenger" with Jack Nicholson, said she wanted to avoid playing "crazy women, lesbians or murderers", and it would be nice to play opposite men "my age".

"I mean even Nicholson is better than Brando. But it's not great. He's 40, or almost," she said.

Palud said she had been struck by the footage.

"What moved me was this woman in the 1970s who was talking, saying things that no one seemed to be hearing, whereas... what she was saying was very modern," the director said.


AFP


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