0837 GMT November 21, 2019
His publicist, Flavia Schiavi, said Bertolucci died at his home in Rome. He was suffering from cancer, Variety reported.
Italy's greatest auteur of his generation, Bertolucci managed to work both in Europe and Hollywood, though his relationship with the studios had its ups and downs. But even when he operated within the studio system, Bertolucci always managed to make films that were considered projections of his inner world.
'The Last Emperor', an adaptation of the autobiography of China's last imperial ruler, Pu Yi, swept the 1987 Oscars, winning every category in which it had been nominated, including best picture and best director. With it, Bertolucci became the first and only Italian to win the Oscar for best director. 'The Last Emperor' is among the movies that have won the most Academy Awards and was also the first Western epic about China made with the Chinese government's cooperation.
Born March 16, 1941, into a wealthy family in the northern Italian city of Parma, Bertolucci was a prodigious talent from a young age. The son of well-known poet and writer Attilio Bertolucci, he himself won an award for poetry at age 21, then decided to become a filmmaker.
In 1970, he received his first Academy Award nomination for the adapted screenplay of 'The Conformist', based on a novel by Alberto Moravia. The film is set during Italy's Fascist period and centers on a tormented intellectual (Jean-Louis Trintignant) recruited by Mussolini's secret police to go to Paris to assassinate an anti-Fascist professor who was once his teacher.
The political exile of sorts played a part in his choice to make what he called his 'faraway movies' set in distant locales: 'The Last Emperor' in China; 'The Sheltering Sky' (1990), based on a Paul Bowles novel, in North Africa; and 'Little Buddha' (1993), in Nepal and Bhutan.
In 1987, he came roaring back in the US when the Academy awarded nine Oscars to 'The Last Emperor', a sumptuous historical epic starring John Lone and Joan Chen. After years of volatile relations with Hollywood, Bertolucci called his Oscar-night triumph "perhaps my most curious Hollywood moment".
Among the many accolades bestowed on him were the Cannes Film Festival's Honorary Palme d'Or for lifetime achievement, in 2011; the Venice Film Festival's Honorary Golden Lion, in 2007; and the Locarno Film Festival's Leopard of Honor, in 1997. He presided over the Venice jury twice, in 1983 and 2013, and over the Cannes jury in 1990.
Bertolucci directed his last film, the intimate coming-of-age drama 'Me and You', despite being in a wheelchair, reportedly because of several botched surgeries for a herniated disc. His first Italian-language film in 23 years, the movie centers on a teenage boy who connects with his heroin-addicted older half-sister. 'Me and You' was largely shot in a large basement in Rome's Trastevere quarter, around the corner from Bertolucci's residence, and played out of competition in Cannes in 2012.