Last Emperor, The (70mm)

China’s last emperor, Pu Yi, was snatched from his mother as an infant and taken to Peking’s Forbidden City, where he led a closeted existence. The 1912 Republic restricted Pu Yi to his enclave, where he remained until 1924. He left the Forbidden City to live as a Westernised playboy before being installed as puppet emperor in Japanese-occupied Manchuria. Arrested by the Russians at the end of WWII, he was handed over to Mao’s Communist government. After ten years of imprisonment and re-education he was given a humble job as a gardener.
Pu Yi’s extraordinary story is recounted in Bernardo Bertolucci’s spectacular, Oscar-winning epic, which uses the director’s favourite device of the flashback as a means of structuring the narrative’s sixty-year span. Bertolucci has said that the theme of the film is change: ‘Pu Yi’s story is a story of metamorphosis from emperor to citizen, from caterpillar to butterfly.’ The director’s blend of Freudian and Marxist ideas makes for a compelling drama, but the film is really distinguished by its rich visual style. Working in close collaboration with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Bertolucci’s style goes way beyond mere spectacle. It involves a genuinely creative and meaningful use of colour, movement, lighting and compositionoqualities that are best appreciated with 70mm film projected on a large screen.
Italy-U.K.-China, 1987. Colour. Anamorphic. 70mm print. Six-track magnetic stereo sound. Dolby ‘A’. 163 mins.

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