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Bernardo Bertolucci, Italian director of ‘Last Tango in Paris’, dies at 77

AFP file photo | Bertolucci was the first recipient of the Cannes Film Festival's Honorary Palme d'Or Award.

Bernardo Bertolucci, the Italian director of seminal classics including “The Conformist”, “The Last Emperor” and the controversial “Last Tango in Paris”, has died at 77, local media said Monday, saluting the “last great maestro” of Italian cinema.

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The acclaimed filmmaker, who had been confined to a wheelchair in recent years, died at his home in Rome after a long illness, surrounded by family, said Italy's state-run broadcaster RAI.

Considered one of the giants of Italian and world cinema, Bertolucci was the first recipient of the Cannes Film Festival's Honorary Palme d'Or, awarded in 2011. He was also the only Italian ever to win an Oscar for Best Picture, snapping up the award in 1988 for "The Last Emperor". His biographical masterpiece about the last Chinese emperor won a total of nine Academy Awards, all of those for which it was nominated, including Best Director.

Born in Parma, northeastern Italy, in 1941, Bertolucci was a disciple of film legend Pier Paolo Pasolini and a self-professed Marxist. His films were often highly politicised, dealing with workers' struggles in the five-hour-long epic "1900" (1976), starring Robert De Niro and Gérard Depardieu, or the fate of left-wingers in fascist Italy in the intricate, ambivalent "The Conformist" (1970), which many critics regard as his finest work.

Bertolucci, however, is best remembered for the sexually explosive "Last Tango in Paris", starring Marlon Brando, which has stirred controversy ever since its release in 1972. The Italian director was recently criticised for revealing that he withheld details of the film's infamous rape scene from actress Maria Schneider, who was 19 at the time.

Bertolucci returned to the themes of political and sexual awakening in many of his later films, which included "Stealing Beauty" (1996) and "The Dreamers" (2003). Despite working with some of Hollywood's biggest stars, he always defended his own filmmaking style against what he said was the pressure of the US film industry.

Gilles Jacob, the former president of the Cannes Film Festival, told AFP on Monday he was saddened by the death of "the last emperor of Italian cinema, the lord of all epics and all escapades". He added: "The party is over, it takes two to tango."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

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