Last Tango in Paris director Bernardo Bertolucci has responded to the renewed outrage over the film’s controversial rape scene.
In statement obtained by Variety on Monday, Bertolucci said there was a “ridiculous misunderstanding” of his comments made during a recently resurfaced interview (originally filmed at La Cinémathèque Française in Paris in 2013), in which the filmmaker admitted he and lead actor Marlon Brando came up with the idea of using butter as sexual lubricant prior to filming the scene, though they kept their decision a secret from Brando’s scene partner, Maria Schneider, who was 19 at the time of production.
“I would like, for the last time, to clear up a ridiculous misunderstanding that continues to generate press reports about Last Tango in Paris around the world,” he said. “Several years ago at the Cinemathèque Francaise, someone asked me for details on the famous ‘butter scene.’ I specified, but perhaps I was not clear, that I decided with Marlon Brando not to inform Maria that we would have used butter… We wanted her spontaneous reaction to that improper use [of the butter]. That is where the misunderstanding lies.”
Bertolucci added, “Somebody thought, and thinks, that Maria had not been informed about the violence on her. That is false! Maria knew everything because she had read the script, where it was all described. The only novelty was the idea of the butter.”
Several Hollywood celebrities reacted to the news in anger, with stars like Jessica Chastain and Jenna Fischer alleging the scene contained “actual rape.” During a 2007 interview with the Daily Mail, Schneider explained no sex act occurred in the film but did admit the sequence left her feeling “a little raped” by Bertolucci and Brando.
“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… I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci,” the actress, who died at 58 after a battle with cancer in 2011, told the publication. When asked if any of the sex depicted in the film was real, Schneider insisted, “Not at all.”
Bertolucci’s statement acknowledged Schneider’s distaste with the way the scene was captured, however. He continued: “… I learned many years later, [I] offended Maria. Not the violence that she is subjected to in the scene, which was written in the screenplay.”