Born in Parma, Italy the first son of a reputed historian, Bertolucci started writing at the age of 15 and soon after received some prestigious literarian prizes like the Premio Viareggio. He then reached Rome, where he was assistant to Pier Paolo Pasolini for his Accattone.
In the 1970s his Ultimo Tango a Parigi (Last Tango in Paris - starring Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider and Jean-Pierre Léaud) caused a deep scandal in Italy for a sodomy scene; the film was sequestered by censorship and officially all the copies were destroyed. An Italian court revoked Bertolucci's civil rights for five years plus it gave him a four-month suspended prison sentence. Many years after, when the general modesty had changed and the censorhip commission had been abolished, the film reappeared (because Bertolucci had kept a clandestine copy) and was projected in a slightly censored version.