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BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI INTERVIEW

INCONTRI RAVVICINATI (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS ) 2003

I wrote this interview on the Italian book `Incontri Ravvicinati` published in 2003.

I finally decided to translate it in english to let it be available on Internet.

When the master Bertolucci received me in his big house in Via Lungara in Rome, I noticed that he was wearing a shirt of Mars Attacks, and my embarrassment with a Oscar winner director was soon gone. Passing softly from psychoanalysis to Buddhism, the encounter with Bertolucci made me realize that there is something more important than technology when it comes to 3D and special effects. Creating parallel and virtual worlds we create what we are.


To begin with, I asked him to recall the circumstances and the style of the famous sequence between Buddha and Mara in `The Little Buddha`.

Meanwhile, let`s see why we decided to use this digital technology. It was a while that I was trying to resolve a moment in the history of Siddhartha, when the Enlightenment is about to happen.

Finally I made a sort of discovery. I said, Look, the Enlightenment is just the invention of special effects, in the way it has been told by Asvaghosa, which is Buddhacarita, in acts of Buddha published in Italy by Adelphi.

He explained the Enlightenment in a way which is nothing but a special effect.

Then we have first the images of Siddhartha who is meditating, then the images of these beautiful girls who come before him to try to attract and seduce him, and didn`t come to anything. Finally, from these girls we discover that in fact the matrix of what is happening is Mara, and Mara is the god of evil.

Mara attacks Siddhartha in different ways, first as we said with the beauty and then with real legions of monsters, like an army. And then finally there is the last battle. All of this could only have been possible with special effects.

I was profane of these techniques so I asked for help from the special effects supervisor, Richard Conway, an Englishman who had already made “Brazil” and here in Rome “ The Adventures of Baron Munchausen”. A man of great talent.

We only shot one part of the scene at Pinewood because in reality the movie was filmed at different times. Some scenes, like that one with the arrows of fire were shot from another unit in Nepal. At the time the second unit was directed by my brother Giuseppe. And, I would say, that there was no more than thirty soldiers, after the multiplication of fish and bread that is done with the digital they have become hundreds and hundreds of figures. Then came the balls of fire, also made in digital. The work was done in summary, a bit in Nepal, a bit in the laboratory in London and a bit at Pinewood. Now I tell you what we did at Pinewood and I`ll explain why we also used the studio.

At the end of this fight, I reflected with rimpoche, my young expert lama very important ...

Was also present in the film?

Yes, his face appears in the film when the lama Norbu is dying and the baby`s father is there watching him die, and then arrives a young monk explaining how it usually happens the depart of a lama.

What were you meditating about ?

Speaking with the rimpoche I asked, `According to you what is evil ? `.

The rimpoche was thinking a bit and then he said: `The evil in my opinion is represented by the ego. The ego is our real enemy. `

The self that is so developed especially in the West, becouse in the East there is a habit to collectivism,there is much less individualism. And then I thought that the last battle, after the girls, after the army with the arrows of fire, after the balls of fire etc.., The last battle should take place directly with Mara. I though about the ego and I thought that Siddhartha sees his reflection in this small puddle of water, and sees himself in the reflection, and sees how the sign of his image wanted to be pulled out from the water , he puts his hand out and then withdraw, and we see that Siddhartha takes up himself from the reflection that materializes in three dimensions.

To visualize this image of double I first shot Siddhartha that was leaning over the pond, he stretches out his hand, with some camera movement, and then I shot Siddhartha coming out. All of this is done with a camera system that you probably know: Motion Control Camera. The two shots first of Siddhartha that is leaning down to the water and the doubled Siddhartha that is coming out of the water, were made with the same camera movement so using the Motion Control Camera we had completely identical sequences with identical movements in space. In fact, then it came out very well because we first put Siddhartha looking down, then the reflected Siddhartha that comes out the water, then the pool of water. Then when Siddhartha came out, the ego, there is a morphing and Siddhartha becomes this image instead of this evil deity, Mara. And Siddhartha, watches his ego and tells him this very mysterious sentence, that we later understood:

`Architect, this time you wont be able to rebuild your home anymore.`

And this is the phrase that Siddhartha says to his ego and that means this:` dear ego, I have defeated you and this time you will not be able to make me living by your rules, because enlightened Siddhartha reached Nirvana and inside Nirvana there`s no longer the ego`.

One gets the feeling that this film has changed your way of seeing the film and reality, because in your later works is evident a research for the absolute. For example, I think of “ L`Assedio”.

The Little Buddha was an experience of attendance of almost living together, cohabitation with a personality like that of rimpoche who had a big weight on my way to work and on certain aspirations. So when you say absolutely is true. There`s like a better research, more focused. Definitely an experience stronger than many others. I never thought that this film made me become a Buddhist: I always said to feel like an apprentice Buddhist, an amateur. Because even as a neophyte, Buddhism is so rich, and besides, we live in a time where you can find an infinite series of links between the Buddhist view of life and many recent discoveries of science and culture. For example, as I am fond of Freud`s thinking, I see a close connection between Freud and Buddhism.

More than between Jung and Buddhism?

The relationship with Jung is only more apparent, because Jung has made a sort of transhumanation in the East and was like reincarnated in an Eastern European . But I`ve always been more fond of Freud. In my opinion, although Jung is interesting, Freud from the therapy point of view is most effective. And anyway Jung comes from Freud.

About Freud, I can think of `Spellbound` with Hitchcock`s famous dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali.If that would have happened today, in your opinion, Hitchcock, to shoot the sequence, would have used the techniques of 3D animation?

The 3D technology is expressed by our time. At the time of `Spellbound` there was no technologies with which they were made films like Harry Potter or Titanic. It is hard to imagine that at the times of Hitchcock: the technologies are in harmony with their time.

The trip to the moon of Melies with the spacecraft, the rocket that reaches into the eye of the moon and the dancers were just there for those times.

If I think of a Hitchcock movie, I think Rope, where everything is in sequence shots filmed in real time. All shots of ten minutes from the afternoon until after sunset, well it was so beautiful like that. That was the kind of special effect that you would have done in those days.

There`s this great artist, I think his name was Whitlock, which has done scenes for Marnie. Although there is a port that you see when Marnie is brought by Sean Connery in the house where when she was a child she saw his mother killing a sailor.

At that point the film is a real psychodrama with a lot of memories of trauma, and catharsis!

Yes Marnie regresses and does the baby voice when she sees the red blood ... At that point in the film we see how Hitchcock loved certain backgrounds, such as the harbor, which were animated. For example, in Rope you see the time passing, from the afternoon light into the night. Sometimes there are even the seagulls flying by and make this picture very beautiful. He didn`t want to be realistic. It was obviously a backdrop but had poetry.

A little simple special effect. In fact, in Little Buddha, just because I knew I had this digital sequence, I did some drawings. This is the only sequence for which I have ever done a storyboard. I hate storyboards.

Storyboard ever made, really?

No. I am an enemy of the storyboard, because the film becomes an illustration of four vignettes, I prefer to imrpovise a lot. Anyways for that sequence it was really needed. Otherwise I would have never been able to plan the work that we had to do. But with the storyboard we planned and I also enjoyed it, because for me it was a novelty.

In an interview, you said that with advanced technologies you wanted to evoke the flavor of old film and not just wow the crowds.

In fact, for this film I wanted moments of old-fashioned special effects. Those who are done on the set and are the most poetic.

For example, the small Siddhartha was born, Maya his mother gives birth to him being hung from a tree that bends; promptly the kid talk and walk.

We have made the child walk and at every step the lotuses was appearing out from the sand.

It was very important because in some ways I was balancing the high-tech sequence of the enlightment.

Because those were really just old-fashioned special effects, those that were made with the shots coming and departing. At every step there was a certain enchantment.

What was the influence of Storaro in all this?

Of course a certain type of lighting had its importance. But we both let ourself be guided by the special effects director.

Would you use digital actors instead of real actors, as now seems possible according to the latest experiments?

Sure, there`s always a sort of fascination in inventing little Frankenstein creatures.

Instead of being an actor, Boris Karloff would be a virtual being.

It might be interesting to pose the problem. It`s a bit like being with a cloned person. What is the way of facing this type of race and above all, what is the way this race sees us? This is a new gender: after the man and woman there is the clone.

Among these creatures there can be a Pinocchio or the Karamazov brothers: endless possibilities.

This process involves capturing movements from ators in order to transfer it to the three-dimensional model. A process that seems the antithesis of a film like yours, which enhances the expressiveness of the face of the actor also in silence.

Look, when De Sica asked me to play a part in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis , I was scoffing myself.

Eventually he told me: `Well Bernardo, why not? Everybody knows that I am able to let act even the stones`.

So it`s a little this: the challenge to let act a stone.

And then I do not think that behind the shell of this face there may be really someone who gave their expressiveness.

I believe however that the digital model will have his own expressivity, perhaps with his own no-expressiveness.

What interests me is the very unpredictability that is outside the control of Dr. Frankenstein.


Do you believes that the new digital technologies will lead to new forms of expression, beyond the cinema as we know it?

Fortunately, the cinema is transforming. There is a great change and I am very excited. Every time that the cinema changed, for example from silent to sound or from black and white to color or now with new languages, each time it regained its breath and left for unpredictable routes.

What are you working on at the moment ?

I`m working on a ten-minute film that has been done in the most primitive way as possible, in black and white.

It is part of an episodic film and it`s called Ten Minutes OIder, produced by the British.

With me there are interesting names: Wim Wenders, Almodovar, Jarmusch, Spike Lee, Kiarostami ... The film will go to Cannes or Venice. Then I have a movie to make this spring in which there will be clips from films of the `60s and use of advanced technologies.