When it comes to documentary filmmaking, simpler usually means better. If you can nail down a straightforward yet pervasive approach to your chosen subject matter, your film will normally be more coherent and effective as a result. This biographical film about Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci takes on this ethos, comprising itself entirely of archive footage featuring the man talking about himself in various interviews.
The film resides in the ‘Love’ strand of this year’s London Film Festival, an intriguing programming decision. If there is a love subplot in the film, it’s Bertolucci loving Bertolucci. And who could blame him? The man is remarkably charismatic, interesting and talented, and there’s no one better to get that fact across to us than Bertolucci himself – clearly the filmmakers agree.
There are obvious limitations to this format. It’s difficult to get inside his head, and rather we spend the film as casual observers learning more about his political and filmmaking beliefs than his character. But there’s no denying that his personality perforates the celluloid, pervading the auditorium in an entertaining fashion.
We may never get fully to grips with Bernardo Bertolucci, as should probably be the film’s mandate, but we get a positive sense of him that will please fans. Even though it may be morbid to suggest, it probably would work better post-mortem, as a eulogy.