Last Friday, an old interview with director Bernardo Bertolucci resurfaced in which he talked about the infamous “butter scene” from Last Tango in Paris, in which Marlon Brando’s character sexually assaults Maria Schneider’s character with a stick of butter. In that 2013 interview, Bertolucci said that the butter scene was “an idea that I had with Marlon in the morning before shooting,” which the pair didn’t inform Schneider about in order to get “her reaction as a girl, not as an actress.” The outrage over the director’s comments was swift and furious, with many tweeting their anger at Bertolucci and Brando for seemingly conspiring to rape a woman in the name of art. Now, the director is responding to the uproar by arguing that the only surprise came in Brando’s decision to use butter as a lubricant, not the scene itself.
In a statement issued on Monday, Bertolucci said:
“I would like, for the last time, to clear up a ridiculous misunderstanding that continues to generate press reports about Last Tango in Paris around the world. Several years ago at the Cinematèque Francais someone asked me for details on the famous butter scene. I specified, but perhaps I was not clear, that I decided with Marlon Brando not to inform Maria that we would have used butter. 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! Maria knew everything because she had read the script, where it was all described. The only novelty was the idea of the butter.”
In an interview with the Daily Mail in 2007, Schneider denied that the butter scene was in the script: “The truth is it was Marlon who came up with the idea. They only told me about it before we had to film the scene and I was so angry.” Although Schneider reiterated that no actual sex took place while filming the movie, she did say the butter scene made her feel “humiliated” and “a little raped” by both the director and star. “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,” she said. “But at the time, I didn’t know that.”