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Bernardo Bertolucci: “I don’t see my movies. I’m afraid to be disappointed.”

Bernardo Bertolucci: "I don't see my movies. I'm afraid to be disappointed."

“I don’t see my movies,” said legendary Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci (“Last Tango in Paris,” “The Conformist”) in New York earlier this week. “I think it’s healthier and safer to keep a bit of distance. I’m afraid to be disappointed.”

Given the wealth of fantastic output the director has put forth over the past four plus decades, Bertolucci is missing out. Thankfully fans of his work, and those still unfamiliar with his classics currently have the chance to catch the entire oeuvre of Bertolucci’s films courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) retrospective being held in honor of the director.

Spanning the entire breadth of his directing career from his grand debut at the Venice Film Festival with his first film “The Grim Reaper,” to his latest intoxicating fever dream of a movie, 2003’s “The Dreamers,” MoMA along with Cinecitta Luce, present all new prints of his films in a special series honoring the director. Also featured in the retrospective is the U.S. premiere of a rare documentary by the director, “Oil,” following its rediscovery at the 2007 Venice Film Festival.

Bertolucci flew in from his home in Rome, Italy to be present for the series’ kick-off (a screening of his 1970 masterpiece “The Conformist”) and was clearly elated to be in New York for the event.

“[With the] myth surrounding the Museum of Modern Art, it was extraordinary to be asked [to show my work],” Bertolucci said, seated in a suite at the Waldorf Astoria. “I feel so honored and gratified. At the same time there was this inside question that came out – ‘Am I an impostor?’ When people from MoMA came to Rome to [meet with me], I thought ‘Oh my god, isn’t it dangerous to show all of yourself at the same moment?’

A scene from Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Last Tango in Paris.”

For just that reason, when asked what film he is most excited about audiences reevaluating or discovering, Bertolucci offered, “The one movie is the retrospective, the body of work.” Everything is out in the open for the director who just turned 70 this year. Not only that, but the series forced Bertolucci to do something he seldom does: look back.

“One tries to look ahead,” he said. “Even though my past is full of so many different adventures, from [filming] ‘The Conformist’ to being in the forbidden city for ‘The Last Emperor.'”

But over the course of an almost hour long chat Bertolucci graciously delved into his fascinating past, touching upon everything from his 15-year estrangement from Marlon Brando who severed ties with the director following their work on “Last Tango in Paris,” to getting the Dalai Lama to venture out to a cinema for the first time in his life to view Bertolucci’s 1993 film “Little Buddha” at its premiere in Paris.

Bertolucci’s eyes really lit up though when he addressed the future, speaking excitedly about his next project, an adaptation of Niccolo Ammaniti’s coming-of-age novel “Io e Te,” which Bertolucci is currently in the process of obtaining rights to. The story, confined to one household, appealed to the director for its “unity of place,” a theme Bertolucci knows well, having explored confined spaces in both “Besieged” and “Last Tango in Paris.”

Assuming all goes smoothly with the planned production, Bertolucci said he has no plans to abandon filmmaking to return to his first love, poetry. Instead he hinted at something sure to get any cinephile into a frenzy.

“I am in love with the idea of doing a movie in 3D,” he said. “I think 3D would be great in a kind of realistic normal story without throwing objects to the camera, but using the 3D on the emotions in an intimate story.”

MoMA’s Bernardo Bertolucci retrospective runs till January 12, 2011. For showtimes and listings visit MoMA’s site.

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