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Last Tango in Paris

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Title: Last Tango in Paris  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Bernardo Bertolucci, List of banned films, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Maria Michi, 31st Golden Globe Awards
Collection: 1970S Erotic Films, 1970S Romantic Drama Films, 1972 Films, Censorship in Italy, English-Language Films, Erotic Romance Films, Films About Grieving, Films About Sexuality, Films About Widowhood, Films Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, Films Produced by Alberto Grimaldi, Films Set in Paris, French Drama Films, French Erotic Films, French Films, French-Language Films, Italian Drama Films, Italian Erotic Films, Italian Films, Obscenity Controversies, Obscenity Controversies in Film, United Artists Films
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Last Tango in Paris

Last Tango in Paris
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Produced by Alberto Grimaldi
Written by
Story by Bernardo Bertolucci
Music by Gato Barbieri
Cinematography Vittorio Storaro
Edited by
PEA Predozioni Europee Associate S.A.S.
Les Productions Artistes Associes S.A.
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • 14 October 1972 (1972-10-14) (NY)
  • 15 December 1972 (1972-12-15) (FRA/ITA)
  • 7 February 1973 (1973-02-07) (US)
Running time
129 minutes (original NC-17/X-rated version)
250 minutes (rough cut)[1]
  • France
  • Italy
  • English
  • French
Budget $1.25 million[2]
Box office $96.3 million[3]

Last Tango in Paris (Italian: Ultimo tango a Parigi) is a 1972 Franco-Italian romantic erotic drama film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci which portrays a recently widowed American who begins an anonymous sexual relationship with a young betrothed 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 in different venues. Upon release in the United States, the most graphic scene was cut and the MPAA gave the film an X rating. After revisions were made to the MPAA ratings code, in 1997 the film was re-classified NC-17 for "some explicit sexual content". Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released a censored R-rated cut in 1981.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
    • Francis Bacon influence 3.1
    • Brando's lines 3.2
  • Post-production 4
  • Reception 5
    • Response in United States 5.1
    • International response 5.2
    • Accolades 5.3
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Paul (Marlon Brando), a middle-aged American hotel owner mourning his wife's suicide, meets a young, engaged Parisian woman named Jeanne (Maria Schneider) at an apartment that both are interested in renting. Paul takes the apartment after they begin an anonymous sexual relationship there. He insists that neither of them share any personal information, not even given names. The affair continues until one day Jeanne arrives at the apartment and finds that Paul has packed up and left without warning.

Paul later meets Jeanne on the street and says he wants to renew the relationship. He tells her of the recent tragedy of his wife. As he tells his life story, they walk into a tango bar, where he continues telling her about himself. The loss of anonymity disillusions Jeanne about their relationship. She tells Paul she does not want to see him again. Paul, not wanting to let Jeanne go, chases her back to her apartment, where he tells her he loves her and wants to know her name.

Jeanne takes a gun from a drawer. She tells Paul her name and shoots him. Paul staggers out onto the balcony, mortally wounded, and collapses. As Paul dies, a dazed Jeanne mutters to herself that he was just a stranger who tried to rape her, that she did not know who he was, as if in a rehearsal, preparing herself for questioning by the police.


  • Marlon Brando as Paul, an American expatriate and hotel owner
  • Maria Schneider as Jeanne, a young Parisian woman
  • Jean-Pierre Léaud as Thomas, a film director and Jeanne's fiance
  • Maria Michi as Rosa's mother
  • Massimo Girotti as Marcel, Rosa's former lover
  • Giovanna Galletti as the Prostitute, an old acquaintance of Rosa
  • Darling Légitimus as the Concierge
  • Catherine Allégret as Catherine, a maid at Paul and Rosa's hotel
  • Gitt Magrini as Jeanne's mother
  • Luce Marquand as Olympia
  • Veronica Lazar as Rosa, Paul's deceased wife
  • Dan Diament as the TV sound engineer
  • Catherine Sola as the script girl
  • Mauro Marchetti as the TV cameraman
  • Peter Schommer as the TV assistant cameraman
  • Catherine Breillat as Mouchette
  • Marie-Hélène Breillat as Monique
  • Armand Abplanalp as the Prostitute's client
  • Rachel Kesterber as Christine
  • Ramón Mendizábal as the Tango Orchestra Leader
  • Mimi Pinson as the President of Tango Jury
  • Gérard Lepennec as the tall furniture mover
  • Stéphane Koziak as the short furniture mover
  • Michel Delahaye (scenes deleted) as the Bible salesman
  • Laura Betti (scenes deleted) as Miss Blandish
  • Jean-Luc Bideau (scenes deleted) as the Barge Captain[4]
  • Gianni Pulone (scenes deleted)
  • Franca Sciutto (scenes deleted)


The Pont de Bir-Hakeim in Paris, where numerous scenes were shot.

Bernardo Bertolucci developed the film from his sexual fantasies: "He once dreamed of seeing a beautiful nameless woman on the street and having sex with her without ever knowing who she was".[5] The screenplay was by Bertolucci, Franco Arcalli, and Agnès Varda (additional dialogue). It was later adapted as a novel by Robert Alley. The film was directed by Bertolucci with cinematography by Vittorio Storaro.

Bertolucci originally intended to cast Dominique Sanda, who developed the idea with him, and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Trintignant refused and, when Brando accepted, Sanda was pregnant and decided not to do the film.[5]

An art lover, Bertolucci drew inspiration from the works of the British artist Francis Bacon for the opening sequence of cast and crew credits.[6]

Francis Bacon influence

Double Portrait of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach
Study for a Portrait

The film's opening credits include two paintings by Bacon: Double Portrait of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach and Study for a Portrait. The hues used in the film were inspired by the paintings of Bacon.[7] During pre-production, Bertolucci frequently visited an exhibit of Bacon's paintings at the Grand Palais in Paris; he said that the light and colour in Bacon's paintings reminded him of Paris in the winter, when

the lights of the stores are on, and there is a very beautiful contrast between the leaden gray of the wintry sky and the warmth of the show windows...the light in the paintings was the major source of inspiration for the style we were looking for.[8]
Bacon's painting style often depicted human skin like raw meat and the painter's inspiration included meat hanging in a butcher shops window and human skin diseases.[8]

Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro had previously worked with Bertolucci on The Conformist and often used an azure hue in the film. Storaro later told a reporter that

after The Conformist I had a moment of crisis; I was asking myself: what can come after azure?...I did not have the slightest idea that an orange film could be born. We needed another kind of emotion...It was the case of Last Tango.[8]

For Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci and Storaro took inspiration from Bacon's paintings by using "rich oranges, light and cool grays, icy whites, and occasional reds combine[d] with Bertolucci's own tasteful choices of soft browns, blond browns, and delicate whites with bluish and pink shadings".[9]

Bertolucci took Marlon Brando to the Bacon exhibit and told Brando that he "wanted him to compare himself with Bacon's human figures because I felt that, like them, Marlon's face and body were characterized by a strange and infernal plasticity. I wanted Paul to be like the figures that obsessively return in Bacon: faces eaten by something coming from the inside."[8]

Brando's lines

As was his practice in previous films, Brando refused to memorise his lines for many of the scenes. Instead he wrote his lines on cue cards and posted them around the set, 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 card.[10] Brando asked Bertolucci if he could "write lines on Maria's rear end", which the director rejected.[11]


Schneider provided frank interviews in the wake of Tango‍ '​s controversy, claiming she had slept with fifty men and seventy 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."[12]

During the publicity for the film's release, Bertolucci said Schneider developed an "Oedipal fixation with Brando".[11] Schneider said Brando sent her flowers after they first met, and "from then on he was like a daddy".[10] In a later interview, Schneider denied this, saying, "Brando tried to be very paternalistic with me, but it really wasn't any father-daughter relationship."[11]

Bertolucci shot a scene which showed Brando's genitals, but in 1973 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."[11]

In 1975, Schneider recounted feelings of sexual humiliation pertaining to the sodomy scene:

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.[13]

Schneider much later in life said that making the film was her life's only regret,[14] that it "ruined her life", and that she considers Bertolucci a "gangster and a pimp".[15]

In 2011, Bertolucci denied that he "stole her youth", and commented, "The girl wasn't mature enough to understand what was going on."[16] In 2013 he said on Dutch College Tour, a television program, "I feel guilty, but I don't regret it."[17]

Brando said to Bertolucci at the time, "I was completely and utterly violated by you. I will never make another film like that."[11] Brando refused to speak to Bertolucci for 15 years after the production was completed.[18] Much like Schneider, Brando later said he "felt raped and manipulated" by the film.[14]


The film opened in late 1972 in France, where filmgoers stood in two-hour queues for the first month of its run at the seven cinemas where it was screened.[10] It gained unanimous positive reviews in every major French publication.[19] To circumvent state censorship, thousands of Spaniards travelled hundreds of miles to reach French cinemas in Biarritz and Perpignan where Tango was playing.[20] Following that, it was released in the United States, Great Britain, and other venues.

The film generated considerable controversy because of its subject and graphic portrayal of sex.

Response in United States

October 14, 1972...should become a landmark in movie history comparable to May 29, 1913—the night Le Sacre du Printemps was first performed—in music history...Last Tango in Paris has the same kind of hypnotic excitement as the Sacre, the same primitive force, and the same thrusting, jabbing eroticism. The movie breakthrough has finally come. – Pauline Kael[21]

The film premiered in New York City on 14 October 1972, to enormous public controversy, as it had received coverage after opening in France. The media frenzy surrounding the film generated intense popular interest as well as moral condemnation, and the film was featured in cover stories in both Time[22] and Newsweek[11] magazines. Playboy published a photo spread of Brando and Schneider "cavorting in the nude".[11] 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.[10]
The Village Voice reported walkouts by board members and "vomiting by well-dressed wives".[23] Columnist William F. Buckley and ABC's Harry Reasoner denounced the film as "pornography disguised as art".[11]

After local government officials failed to ban the film in [25]

The film's scandal centred mostly on an anal rape scene, featuring Paul's use of butter as a lubricant.[26][27] Other critics focused on when the character Paul asks Jeanne to insert her fingers in his anus, then asks her to 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".[28]

Film critic Pauline Kael gave the film 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",[10] and called it "the most powerfully erotic movie ever made, and it may turn out to be the most liberating movie ever made".[29]
United Artists reprinted the whole of Kael's rave as a double-page advertisement in the Sunday New York Times. Kael's review of Last Tango in Paris is regarded as the most influential piece of her career,[30] the American critic Roger Ebert has repeatedly described it as "the most famous movie review ever published", and he added the film to his "Great Movies" collection.[31][32]

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."[11] Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected 31 reviews to give the film a rating of 80%.[33]

The film earned $12,625,000 in North American rentals in 1973.[34]

International response

British censors reduced the duration of the sodomy sequence before permitting the film to be released in the United Kingdom,[35] though it is not cut in modern releases. Mary Whitehouse, a Christian morality campaigner, 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".[36] Chile banned the film entirely for nearly thirty years under its military government,[37] and the film was similarly suppressed in South Korea and Portugal.[38]

In Australia, the film was released uncut with an R18+ rating by the Australian Classification Board on 1 February 1973. It received a VHS release by Warner Home Video with the same classification on 1 January 1987, forbidding sale or hire to anyone under the age of 18.[39]

In Italy, the film was released on 15 December 1972, grossing an unprecedented $100,000 in six days.[40] One week later, however, police seized all copies on the order of a prosecutor, who defined the film as "self-serving pornography", and its director was put on trial for "obscenity". Following first degree and appeal trials, the fate of the film was sealed on 26 January 1976 by the Italian Supreme Court, which sentenced all copies to be destroyed, (though some were preserved by the National Film Library). 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.[15]

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.[41]


Brando received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Bertolucci was nominated for Best Director.[42]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p 288
  3. ^
  4. ^ Arcalli & Bertolucci 1972, pp. 21–22.
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ "A celebration of 500 years of British Art". Life: The Observer Magazine, 19 March 2000.
  7. ^ Tonetti 1995, p. 233.
  8. ^ a b c d Tonetti 1995, p. 126.
  9. ^ Tonetti 1995, p. 127.
  10. ^ a b c d e "Self-Portrait of an Angel and Monster", Time
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i Michener, Charles. "Tango: The Hottest Movie", Newsweek, 12 February 1973
  12. ^ Klemesrud, Judy. "Maria Says her 'Tango' is Not". The New York Times. 4 February 1973, pg. 117.
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b "Downhill ride for Maria after her tango with Brando", The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 June 2006
  15. ^ a b "Stealing Beauty", The Guardian, 5 February 2004
  16. ^ "INTERVIEW: Bernardo Bertolucci", Green Cine
  17. ^ "Bernardo Bertolucci interview", Dutch College Tour, NTR, 2 February 2013,
  18. ^ "Legendary Oscar-Winner Bernardo Bertolucci's Career Celebrated at MoMA", Huffington Post
  19. ^ "'Last Tango' Wins Raves in France". The New York Times, 16 December 1972. pg. 24.
  20. ^ Giniger, Henry. "Spaniards Seeing 'Tango' in France". The New York Times, 16 April 1973, pg. 49
  21. ^ Arcalli & Bertolucci 1972, p. 9.
  22. ^ Last Tango in Paris Cover Story
  23. ^ "Last Tango in Paris: Can it arouse the same passions now?", Independent
  24. ^ Waggoner, Walter H. "Pickets Call 'Tango' Filthy as it Starts its Montclair Run". The New York Times, 26 April 1973. pg. 91.
  25. ^ Johnston, Laurie. "'Women's Power' Protests 'Male Domination' of Wall St." The New York Times, 24 August 1973, pg. 39.
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ Canby, Vincent. "Last Tango in Paris".
  29. ^ Arcalli & Bertolucci 1972, p. 10.
  30. ^ "Finding It at the Movies", New York Review of Books
  31. ^ "Last Tango in Paris". Roger Ebert website
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p. 19
  35. ^ Last Tango in ParisCase Study: , Students' British Board of Film Classification page
  36. ^ "Last Tango in Paris: Can it Arouse the Same Passions Now?", Independent
  37. ^ After Banning 1,092 Movies, Chile Relaxes Its Censorship
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^ Gussow, Mel. "Bertolucci Talks about Sex, Revolution, and 'Last Tango'". The New York Times, 2 February 1973, pg. 20.
  41. ^
  42. ^

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