Vittorio Storaro, the Oscar-winning cinematographer who supervised the filming of the “butter” scene in Last Tango in Paris, has stoutly defended the film’s director Bernardo Bertolucci, saying “nothing happened” during the shoot.
Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter, Storaro said that the recent storm over the scene – which showed Marlon Brando’s character Paul anally raping Maria Schneider’s Jeanne – was based on claims that are “not true at all”.
Storaro said: “I was there. We were doing a movie. You don’t do it for real. I was there with two cameras and nothing happened. … Nobody was raping anybody.
“I think the journalists are making an issue that is not really an issue. I read that there was a kind of violence made on her but that’s not true. That’s not true at all.”
Acknowledging that the controversy had arisen from Bertolucci’s suggestion that he had not mentioned the use of butter “as a lubricant” to Schneider before shooting the scene, Storaro said: “Probably Bernardo felt that maybe he didn’t explain it completely to Maria from the beginning and that’s why he felt a little guilty and nothing more than that. What Bernardo said later was he would like to apologise to Maria, only because he probably didn’t explain to her at the beginning what was discussed with Brando. Nothing happened during the shooting.”
He added: “[Maria] knew perfectly well what she was doing. She knew pretty well what was happening in every scene. She was an actress and had no problems with this. It was an acting job, not something else.”
Storaro, who also worked with Bertolucci on The Conformist and The Last Emperor, said the director would meet with Brando every morning while filming Last Tango to discuss the day’s work because “Brando wanted to add his own opinion”. “Everything was written down, but every morning Bernardo loved to add something … We knew the script and we knew what we wanted to do, but every morning you come up with different ideas.”
Describing the shoot as a “fantastic period”, Storaro also said that “like everybody in this wonderful atmosphere, [Schneider] was so sorry that the movie was ending.”
In later years, however, Schneider (who was 19 at the time of filming and who died in 2011) recalled a very different experience, describing Bertolucci as “very manipulative” and that she “felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci”.
In recent days a string of actors, including Jessica Chastain and Chris Evans, have lined up to condemn Bertolucci’s methods, but the director himself hit back, calling the controversy “ridiculous”.