Le Dernier Tango

Last Tango in Paris

Last Tango in Paris

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Produced by Alberto Grimaldi
Written by Bernardo Bertolucci
Franco Arcalli
Agnès Varda
Story by Bernardo Bertolucci
Starring Marlon Brando
Maria Schneider
Jean-Pierre Léaud
Music by Gato Barbieri
Cinematography Vittorio Storaro
Editing by Franco Arcalli
Roberto Perpignani
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) October 14, 1972 (NY)
December 15, 1972 (US)
Running time 129 minutes
250 minutes (original cut)
Country France
Language English
Budget $1.25 million
Box office $96,301,534

Last Tango in Paris (Italian: Ultimo tango a Parigi) is a 1972 Italian romantic drama film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci which portrays a recent American widower who takes up an anonymous sexual relationship with a young, soon-to-be-married Parisian woman. It stars Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, and Jean-Pierre Léaud.

The film's raw portrayal of sexual violence and emotional turmoil led to international controversy and drew various levels of government censorship. The MPAA gave the film an X rating upon release in the United States. After revisions were made to the MPAA ratings code, it was classified as an NC-17 in 1997. MGM released a censored R-rated cut in 1981. The film has its NC-17 rating for "some explicit sexual content."


Paul (Marlon Brando), a middle-aged American hotel owner mourning the suicide of his wife, meets a young engaged Parisian woman named Jeanne (Maria Schneider) in an apartment both are interested in renting. Paul and Jeanne proceed to have an anonymous sexual relationship in the apartment, and Paul demands that neither of them share any personal information, not even their names. The affair goes on until one day Jeanne comes to the apartment to find that Paul has, without warning, packed up and left.

Paul later meets Jeanne on the street and says that he wants to start anew with their relationship. He takes Jeanne to a tango bar and begins telling her about himself. This loss of anonymity disillusions Jeanne about the relationship and she tells Paul she doesn't want to see him again. Paul, not wanting to let Jeanne go, chases her back to her apartment and tells her that he loves her and wants to know her name.

Unbeknownst to Paul, Jeanne holds a gun she has taken from a drawer. She tells him her name and shoots him. Paul, mortally wounded, staggers out onto the balcony, sticks his chewing gum under the railing, collapses and dies. The audience then sees Jeanne dazed and muttering to herself that he was just a stranger who tried to rape her, reassuring herself that she did not know who he was in a rehearsal for questioning by the police.




The idea grew from Bernardo Bertolucci's sexual fantasies, stating "he once dreamed of seeing a beautiful nameless woman on the street and having sex with her without ever knowing who she was". The screenplay was by Bertolucci, Franco Arcalli, and Agnès Varda (additional dialogue) and was novelized by Robert Alley. The film was directed by Bertolucci with cinematography by Vittorio Storaro. Agnès Varda based the last scenes on the death of Jim Morrison in Paris the previous year.

The stars were intended to be Dominique Sanda, who developed the idea with Bertolucci, and Jean-Louis Trintignant, but Trintignant refused and, when Brando accepted, Sanda was pregnant and decided not to do it.

An art lover, Bertolucci drew inspiration from Francis Bacon for the opening sequence of cast and crew credits.

Cue cards

As with previous films, Marlon Brando refused to memorize his lines for many scenes. Instead, he wrote his lines on cue cards and posted them around the set for easy reference, leaving Bertolucci with the problem of keeping them out of the picture frame. During his long monologue over the body of his wife, for example, Brando's dramatic lifting of his eyes upward is not spontaneous dramatic acting but a search for his next cue. Brando even asked Bertolucci if he could "write lines on Maria's rear end," which he refused to allow.


Maria Schneider provided frank interviews in the wake of Tango's controversy, claiming she had slept with fifty men and twenty women, that she was "bisexual completely," and that she was a user of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. She also said of Bertolucci, "He's quite clever and more free and very young. Everybody was digging what he was doing, and we were all very close."

During the publicity for the film's release, Bertolucci said that Schneider developed an "Oedipal fixation with Brando." Schneider herself said that Brando sent her flowers after they first met, and "from then on he was like a daddy." In a contemporaneous interview, Schneider denied this, saying, "Brando tried to be very paternalistic with me, but it really wasn't any father-daughter relationship." Years later, however, Schneider recounted feelings of sexual humiliation:

"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. 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. After the scene, Marlon didn't console me or apologise. Thankfully, there was just one take."

Schneider subsequently stated that making the film was her life's only regret, that it "ruined her life," and that she considers Bertolucci a "gangster and a pimp." In 2011, Bertolucci disavowed that he had "stole[n] her youth," and commented, "The girl wasn't mature enough to understand what was going on."

Much like Schneider, Brando "felt raped and manipulated" by the film, telling Bertolucci, "I was completely and utterly violated by you. I will never make another film like that." Brando refused to speak to Bertolucci for fifteen years after wrapping production. Bertolucci also shot a scene which shows Brando's genitals, but later explained, "I had so identified myself with Brando that I cut it out of shame for myself. To show him naked would have been like showing me naked."


The music for the film was composed by Gato Barbieri. Some instances of music appearing in the film however are not listed in the credits. For instance in the scene where Jeanne wants to play a record, and asks Paul to take a look at the record player because it does not seem to work: Jeanne: "I've got a surprise for you!" Paul: "That's good. I like surprises. What is it?" Jeanne: "Music. But I don't know how to work it." While getting the player to work Paul gets an electric shock. Paul: "Do you enjoy that?" Then the uncredited song is played.


Response in United States

The film premiered in New York on October 14, 1972 to enormous public controversy. The media frenzy surrounding the film generated intense popular interest as well as moral condemnation, landing cover stories in both Time and Newsweek magazines. Playboy published a photo spread of Brando and Schneider "cavorting in the nude." Time wrote, "Any moviegoers who are not shocked, titillated, disgusted, fascinated, delighted or angered by this early scene in Bernardo Bertolucci's new movie, Last Tango in Paris, should be patient. There is more to come. Much more." The Village Voice reported walkouts by board members and "vomiting by well-dressed wives." Columnist William F. Buckley and ABC's Harry Reasoner denounced the film as "pornography disguised as art."

After local government officials failed to ban the film in Montclair, NJ, theatergoers had to push through a mob of 200 outraged residents, who hurled epithets like "perverts" and "homos" at the attendees. Later, a bomb threat temporarily halted the showing. The New York chapter of the National Organization for Women denounced the film as a tool of "male domination."

The film's scandal centered mostly on an anal sex scene featuring the use of butter as a lubricant. Other critics focused on when he asks her to insert her fingers in his anus, then exacts a vow from her that she would prove her devotion to him by, among other things, having sex with a pig. Vincent Canby of The New York Times described the film's sexual content as the artistic expression of the "era of Norman Mailer and Germaine Greer."

Renowned film critic Pauline Kael bestowed the film with the most ecstatic endorsement of her career, writing, "Tango has altered the face of an art form. This is a movie people will be arguing about for as long as there are movies." United Artists reprinted the whole of Kael's extraordinary rave as a double-page ad in the Sunday New York Times. Kael's review of Last Tango in Paris is regarded as the most influential piece of her career, and Roger Ebert has repeatedly described it as "the most famous movie review ever published" and added the film to his "Great Movies" collection.

American director Robert Altman expressed unqualified praise: "I walked out of the screening and said to myself, 'How dare I make another film?' My personal and artistic life will never be the same." Although many of the original reviews are not included in its rating, the film currently holds an 81% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Marlon Brando received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Bernardo Bertolucci was nominated for Best Director.

International response

In France, moviegoers stood in two-hour lines for the first month of its run at the seven theaters where Tango played, spurred by unanimous positive reviews in every major French publication. In order to circumvent state censorship, thousands of Spaniards traveled hundreds of miles to reach French theaters in Biarritz and Perpignan where Tango was playing.

British censors reduced the duration of the sodomy sequence before permitting it to open in the United Kingdom, though it is not cut in modern releases. Mary Whitehouse, a self-described champion of decency and morality, expressed outrage that the film had been certified "X" rather than banned outright, and Labour MP Maurice Edelman denounced the classification as "a license to degrade." Chile banned the film entirely for nearly thirty years, and the film was similarly suppressed in South Korea and Portugal.

In Italy, the film was released on December 15, 1972, grossing an unprecedented $100,000 in only six days. One week later, however, police seized all copies on the order of a prosecutor, who defined the movie as "self-serving pornography", and its director was put to trial for "obscenity". Following first degree and appeal trials, the fate of the film was sealed on January 26, 1976 by the Italian Supreme Court, which sentenced all copies to be destroyed, (though some were preserved by the National Film Library). Bernardo Bertolucci was served with a four month suspended sentence in prison and had his civil rights revoked for five years, depriving him of voting rights. In 1987, fifteen years after the film's release, a new ruling allowed the film to be released in Italy.

In Canada, the film was banned by the Nova Scotia Board of Censors, leading to the landmark 1978 Supreme Court of Canada split decision in Nova Scotia Board of Censors v. McNeil, which upheld the provinces' right to censor films.


External links

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