768 Do you remember Last Tango In Paris?

Last Tango in Paris  director Bernardo Bertolucci has confessed that he and Marlon Brando conspired against actress  Maria Schneider  during a rape scene in which the actor used a stick of butter as lubricant.  (SMH)


The Oscar-nominated director addressed the non-consensual scene, where Schneider was stripped naked and butter applied to her nether regions in a simulated rape, in a 2013 video interview that resurfaced recently.

It was done in the name of art, so that makes it all right.

That's the line of defence used by Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci in an interview from 2013 that has just resurfaced online, an interview in which he admits actress Maria Schneider never gave her consent to the infamous anal sex scene in his 1972 film Last Tango in Paris. She couldn't consent because the scene wasn't in the script, so she had no idea it was going to happen until it did.

But it's not all right. It never was, and it never will be.

Bertolucci made the admission to Dutch journalist Wijbrand Schaap during a live Q&A session at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January 2013. It's hard to know which is more shocking: what he said, or the fact it took the world almost four years to notice. But notice it most certainly has.

Bertolucci confessed that he and his leading man, Marlon Brando, had come up with the idea over breakfast one day during the shoot; one look at the pat of butter on the floor between them, and they both knew what was coming. But Schneider, who was just 19 and acting in her first major film role, did not. In 2007 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 by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn't console me or apologise. Thankfully, there was just one take."

It's hard to shake the image of a lecherous smirk passing between the two men as they hatched their plan. During that day's sex scene, Brando - who was 48, and whom Schneider thought of as "a father figure" - would dip his fingers into the butter and use it to lubricate her anus, without any warning.

"I didn't want Maria to act her humiliation, her rage," Bertolucci said. "I wanted Maria to feel, not to act, the rage and the humiliation."

He certainly got what he wanted.

In 2007, Schneider told Britain's Daily Mail she "felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci". After it happened, she added, "Marlon didn't console me or apologise." Once the film was finished, she never spoke to Bertolucci again.

In the Rotterdam interview, which Schaap posted online in February 2013 and which was reposted by an Italian news site about a week ago, the journalist asked Bertolucci if he had any regrets.

"No, but I feel guilty," the director confessed. "I feel guilty but I do not feel regret."

He added: "To make movies, sometimes to obtain something you have to be completely free."

In other words, true artists are above the laws of mere mortals. A little shock digital penetration? What does that matter compared to a work of genius?

Let's leave aside the question of whether or not Last Tango is any good - it certainly has its defenders, as well as critics who deride it as porn with a veneer of existential angst. The real question is, can a director ever justify rape in the service of art?

But that's not even a question we have to ask, is it? It's a flat-out no.

Now, you might think rape is too strong a word for it. After all, Schneider and Brando both went on the record to state that no actual intercourse ever took place.

Brando was certainly dismissive of the seriousness of the exchange when talking to American writer Harold Jaffe, in an interview published in Jaffe's book Brando Bleeds in 2011.

At the time, Brando insisted: "Maria was fine. She turned against the film and the butter thing years later after she declared herself a feminist and bisexual. We got along on the set."

But assuming Schneider was digitally penetrated, as seems almost certainly to be the case, such an act would legally be considered rape or sexual assault, both in France and Australia.

The French penal code defines rape as "any act of sexual penetration, whatever its nature, committed against another person by violence, constraint, threat or surprise".

That last bit might almost have been written with Schneider's experience in mind.

Even if there was no penetration, it was still a gross act of bastardisation and deliberate humiliation, and a breach of the two men's duty of care.

Before this story broke, I'd have defended Last Tango to the hilt as an important work of its time, albeit one that suffers from "many overused myths and stereotypes of women" in its handling of Schneider's character, as feminist film critic E. Ann Kaplan noted soon after its release.

But not now. Now all I can see is a record of at best an abuse and at worst a crime committed by two middle-aged men against a young woman, under the wispy veil of art.

That butter scene is no longer shocking, titillating or erotic. It is utterly rancid, and a stain on the legacy of two men who should have known better.