“Last Tango in Paris” director Bernardo Bertolucci has called the outcry over a rape scene between stars Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider a “ridiculous misunderstanding.”
In the scene in the 1972 film, Brando’s character rapes Schneider’s while using butter as a lubricant.
“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,” the Italian filmmaker said in a statement Monday. “Several years ago at the Cinematèque Francais 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,” the statement continued. “Somebody thought, and thinks, that Maria had not been informed about the violence on her. That is false!”
Bertolucci added, “Maria knew everything because she had read the script, where it was all described. The only novelty was the idea of the butter.”
The issue erupted over the weekend after a YouTube user posted Bertolucci’s 2013 Cinematèque Francais interview, and several news outlets ran headlines that some interpreted to mean Brando had raped Schneider as the cameras rolled. (Yahoo’s headline said, “Bertolucci admits infamous Last Tango ‘butter’ rape scene was non-consensual.” Time tweeted, “‘Last Tango in Paris’ director admits controversial butter rape scene was really rape.”)
Speaking to the Daily Mail in 2007, Schneider said that while what Brando was doing wasn’t real, she objected that the director and her co-star didn’t tell her well in advance about their plans for the scene.
Bertolucci said in the 2013 interview that he and Brando decided on the day they shot the rape scene that Brando’s character should use butter as a lubricant. They didn’t tell Schneider about the idea, Bertolucci said, “because I wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress. I wanted her to react and she felt humiliated… and I think that she hated me and also Marlon because we didn’t tell her that there was that detail of the butter used as a lubricant.”
Chastain is among those who seems to have interpreted Bertolucci’s quote and the headlines about it to mean Schneider was literally raped.
“To all the people that love this film- you’re watching a 19yr old get raped by a 48yr old man. The director planned her attack. I feel sick,” the actress tweeted.
Schneider, who died of cancer in 2011, said that while no intercourse took place, she “felt a little raped, both by Marlon and Bertolucci” after the one-take scene. She told the Daily Mail she only learned about the scene before they shot it.
“That scene wasn’t in the original script. The truth is it was Marlon who came up with the idea. They only told me about it before we had to film the scene and I was so angry,” she said. “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 Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.”
Some have noted on Twitter that if Schneider were penetrated with butter without her consent, that would also be sexual assault. Schneider did not say that occurred, but was disturbed enough to break down on-camera. “Even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears,” she said.
Here are more reactions from Hollywood stars sympathizing with Schneider.
Inexcusable. As a director, I can barely fathom this. As a woman, I am horrified, disgusted and enraged by it. https://t.co/voGRhafy9K
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) December 4, 2016
Wow. I will never look at this film, Bertolucci or Brando the same way again. This is beyond disgusting. I feel rage https://t.co/uvaLogvv7I
— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) December 3, 2016