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She cried rape years ago. Why is the world only noticing now?

Now that a Great Male Artist is telling the story, the world has its pens out, ready to record his memories for the annals of film history.
Last Tango in Paris

Maria Schneider, the actress who played opposite Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris, had been saying it for years. The film’s infamous rape scene, where the much-older Brando anally rapes her character with the aid of a stick of butter, was not pretend. 

The emotional reaction caught by her director, Bernardo Bertolucci, was real. 

The shock, the anger, the humiliation – all totally un-acted.

As far back as 2007, Schneider said in an interview that after filming the scene she still felt humiliated and “a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci”. Afterwards, “Marlon didn’t console me or apologise.” 

But it wasn’t until a recent interview with Bertolucci, the grand auteur himself, re-surfaced and started doing the rounds on the internet, that the world took notice of the sordid back-story to this controversial scene.

Bertolucci admitted Schneider, who died in 2011, had “hated” him because of how he directed that scene, and had never spoken to him again after they wrapped the film. 

No one had taken notice of Schneider’s statements, after all she was just an actress, a girl at the time of filming, who had gone on to live a troubled life before dying too young. 

But now a Great Male Artist was telling the story, the world had its pens out, ready to record his memories for the annals of film history.  

Yes, he had tricked his lead actress, Bertolucci said, in cahoots with Brando, but it was done in the name of art.

“I didn’t want Maria to act her humiliation, her rage. I wanted Maria to feel her humiliation, her rage. Then she hated me for life,” he told a Dutch interviewer.

“To obtain something that you have to be completely free,” he explained airily, neglecting to realise that Schneider was the opposite of free during that scene. 

He wanted her to shout “No, no!” and for it to be real, he said. 

Did he regret shooting the scene that way? 

“No,” said the famous director. “I feel guilty but I do not regret.” 

In other words, he knows the price paid by Schneider was high, but he still thinks the result of the work – her un-feigned reaction of humiliation and hurt, captured by his creepy camera – was worth it. 

His art was more important than her consent. 

In recent days, following a furore and the widespread criticism of his creepy justification of what some commentators have called flat-out rape, the aged director has come out to defend himself. 

Schneider knew her character was going to be raped, he said. She just didn’t know Brando was going to use butter on her privates. 

Schneider is no longer around to tell us a full version of what happened to her, but the idea that any director would film a rape scene and include special surprise elements to get the rapiest reaction from his lead actress, is unconscionable.

As is Bertolucci’s invocation of the Creativity Defence to excuse what was clearly a violation of her trust, and body, as a necessary sacrifice to the artistic endeavour. 

As long as women are objectified and humiliated in service of art, they will continue to be so in life. 

You can put all the sub-titles on it that you like, but violation is violation.  

Jacqueline Maley is a journalist with Fairfax Media


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