Over the weekend, an interview from 2013 with director Bernardo Bertolucci surfaced to the outrage of many. In it, Bertolucci discusses the most infamous scene of his career: the butter-lubricated anal rape scene from Last Tango in Paris.
In the video, he discusses the scene saying, “The sequence of the butter is an idea that I had with Marlon in the morning before shooting it. But I’d been, in a way, horrible to Maria before shooting it because I didn’t tell her what was going on. I wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress,” adding that she “hated me and also Marlon because we didn’t tell her that detail of the butter as a lubricant.”
Bertolucci has responded to the backlash, emphasizing that the butter itself was the only thing Schneider was unaware of.
“I specified, but perhaps I was not clear, that I decided with Marlon Brando not to inform Maria that we would have used butter,” he noted. “We wanted her spontaneous reaction to that improper use [of the butter]. That is where the misunderstanding lies.
“Somebody thought, and thinks, that Maria had not been informed about the violence on her. That is false!”
Bertolucci added that “Maria knew everything because she had read the script, where it was all described. The only novelty was the idea of the butter.
“And that, as I learned many years later, offended Maria. Not the violence that she is subjected to in the scene, which was written in the screenplay,” Bertolucci added.
The Wrap’s Tim Molloy posted an article also dismissing concerns as misunderstanding.
A Time tweet Saturday went further: “Last Tango in Paris’ director admits controversial butter rape scene was really rape.” And others — including actress Jessica Chastain — took the stories to mean an actual rape took place.
“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.
He goes on to include tweets from Evan Rachel Wood, Ava DuVernay and other women horrified by the story, the implication being that they are all mistaken, having “took the stories to mean an actual rape took place.”
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
Schneider died of cancer in 2011, following years of drug addiction, overdoses and a suicide attempt that began following the film. She discussed the scene in a 2007 interview with The Daily Mail.
They engage in some steamy clinches, the most famous involving Schneider face down on the apartment floor while Brando applies butter to her nether regions and performs a sex act on her.
“That scene wasn’t in the original script. The truth is it was Marlon who came up with the idea,” she says.
“They only told me about it before we had to film the scene and I was so angry.
“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.”
Yes, there are some who may have mistook the headlines to mean that Schneider was forcibly penetrated on camera by Brando. This perhaps stems from rumors that have plagued the film since its release, that the “sex” scenes were unsimulated due to their graphic nature. But to dismiss all horror as misunderstanding, as mistake, yet again as women being hysterical and uninformed, is unfair.
Go back to that Daily Mail article and reread the description at the beginning of the quote. The cultural framing of this scene has long been that of anal sex. Sex. A word that implies consent, engagement of multiple parties. Women have long proclaimed that rape is not sex, largely to the crickets of a society that refuses to separate the two. It’s a scene that takes place in a film filled with plenty of consensual acts and this is the most well-known. The film is still described as an “erotic drama,” and you can often find it on lists of “movie sex scenes” highlighting that specific scene. There are plenty of people who no doubt had heard of the movie and that moment and had no idea until this weekend it was a rape scene. This was certainly the case with me prior to watching the film in college.
But beyond that you have Schneider herself who was humiliated and demeaned on camera, without complete consent. Just 19 years old, in her biggest role, opposite an iconic actor, and she didn’t know how to say no. And she was never fully OK again. Bertolucci himself would later say of Schneider, “Maria accused me of having robbed her of her youth and only today I wonder whether there wasn’t some truth to that.”
We have an experience that was horrific for the woman involved, with some consent but not all, and a lot of people giving a million reasons why it was OK.
How many of us can relate to this?
The Wrap story’s subhead reads, “Actress Maria Schneider said exactly what happened on the set of the film a decade ago. People should have listened.”
Yes, perhaps they should have.