Bertolucci ‘Knew He Had to Atone’ for Treatment of Maria Schneider on ‘Last Tango,’ Says Molly Ringwald

"He set up a rape because she didn’t consent to that," said Molly Ringwald, who translated a new memoir from Schneider's cousin Vanessa.
LAST TANGO IN PARIS, from left: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, 1972
"Last Tango in Paris"
Courtesy Everett Collection

Molly Ringwald is revisiting the controversial “Last Tango in Paris.”

The “Breakfast Club” icon translated the non-fiction book “My Cousin Maria Schneider: A Memoir” by Vanessa Schneider from French to English, and in a new interview with The Guardian, Ringwald weighed in on the treatment of then 19-year-old actress Maria Schneider during the erotic 1972 film. Schneider plays a young woman who begins an anonymous sexual relationship with an older man, played by Marlon Brando, with demons of his own.

“She was on board for a lot of it. I feel like she personified the time: she was free, she was bisexual, she was really happy to be part of something that was daring,” Ringwald said of Schneider. “They just went the extra step that they didn’t need to go. The film could have been daring and provocative without that. She should have been able to consent.”

Ringwald began her work as a translator with Philippe Besson’s 2019 novel “Lie with Me.”

Per the memoir, director Bertolucci did not tell Schneider the full extent of the film’s plot until right before production. Schneider allegedly was unaware of the pivotal scene in which Brando’s character anally rapes her character using a stick of butter as lubricant.

“Even though there was no actual penetration, he set up a rape, because she didn’t consent to that,” Ringwald said of how Bertolucci conducted the set. “And he said, ‘That was what I wanted. I wanted the reaction of a girl, not of an actress.’ And that’s not right.”

Ringwald continued, “I think he knew he had to atone, to say something. So he did, but if you see his different interviews, his story changes. I feel like he said what he felt he was supposed to say.”

Ringwald was years ago set to work with Bertolucci, who was attached to direct “The Queen’s Gambit” before it became a Netflix limited series starring Anya Taylor-Joy. Bertolucci died at age 77 in 2018.

As for translating the biography of Schneider, Ringwald said, “I felt my experience as an actor would only bring more to the project, because I feel like I understood her.”

Schneider, who died in 2011, told The Daily Mail in 2007 that she felt violated by the film.

“I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci,” Schneider said at the time.

Director Bertolucci said in 2016 that claims the scenes were not consensual were a “misunderstanding,” while also refuting Schneider’s own.

“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,” Bertolucci said. “Several years ago at the Cinemathèque Francaise 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!”

He added, “Maria knew everything because she had read the script, where it was all described. The only novelty was the idea of the butter.”

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