Clare Peploe - Writer

Writer. Nationality: British. Born: Tanzania. Education: Studied French at the Sorbonne in Paris; studied Italian at Perugia University. Family: Married the director Bernardo Bertolucci; sister of screenwriter Mark Peploe. Career: Met Michaelangelo Antonioni in the late 1960s and collaborated with him on his film of radical politics on a U.S. college campus, Zabriskie Point; began working with Bertolucci in mid-1970s, co-writing La Luna in 1979. Agent: Duncan Heath, International Creative Management, 8899 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048, U.S.A.

Films as Writer:


Zabriskie Point (Antonioni) (co)


La Luna (Bertolucci) (co)


High Season (+d)


Rough Magic (+d)


Besieged (Bertolucci—for TV) (+ assoc pr)


The Triumph of Love

Other Films:


Novecento ( 1900 ) (Bertolucci) (asst d)


By PEPLOE: articles—

Interview with Jonathan Demme, in Interview (New York), May 1988.

On PEPLOE: articles—

Kael, Pauline, "High Season," in The New Yorker , 4 April 1988.

Sragow, Michael, "Bertolucci's Better Half," , May 2000.

* * *

In many ways, Clare Peploe had the perfect upbringing for a writer of movies. Both filmmakers and writers must have the ability to view their subjects with a certain detachment, even if the subject is themselves. Born in Africa to British parents who were both longtime ex-patriots, Peploe divided her youth among two continents and five countries. She still commutes between Italy and London, feeding an enduring longing for both the vibrant urban energy and the sensual Mediterranean sun. This life of contradictions has given Peploe an intimate knowledge of the fish-out-of-water experience that is often at the center of any dramatic production. The paradoxical search for both an individual identity and a place of belonging has become the focus of much of Peploe's own work.

Peploe's parents never owned a television, and, as a girl, she shied away from visual arts, citing her grandfather's fame in Scotland as a painter. But when she was a teenager in London, friends at Oxford introduced her to film. Her fascination with the cinema remained with her during her own multi-national college career, and when she met director Michaelangelo Antonioni in the late 1960s, she was open to the opportunity to be part of a film's production.

The spirit of rebellious questioning that characterized the times both contributed to Peploe's vision and provided her with her opportunity to develop her craft. "Getting into film wasn't so much about professional training then," she told Salon interviewer Michael Sragow, "Films were much more personal, and had more of a personal signature." Her collaborative work with Antonioni and, later, with her husband, Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, helped her develop her own personal style.

Though panned by some critics for its stilted dialog and surrealistic approach, Zabriskie Point was a dream-like look at youthful rebellion. Co-written by an Italian and a pan-European British woman, the film necessarily embodies the outsider's view of very American cultural events. In La Luna , her first co-writing effort with Bertolucci, Peploe continues to explore the consciousness of the outsider, detailing the struggles of a boy to reconnect with his own heritage by finding his birth father, while floundering through drug use and a semi-incestuous relationship with his mother.

If her partnership with the famous Italian directors had resulted in weighty, even pretentious films, Peploe's own movies were much more lighthearted affairs, as if still rooted in the outsider's search for home and self. Using adventure, mystery, and even screwball comedy, Peploe shows a sure hand as a director, weaving the many complex concepts of her story into films that offer viewers a rousing good time.

Set in a tiny village on the island of Rhodes, High Season , released in 1988, is a comic mystery that draws upon Peploe's own ex-patriot background. A madcap romance largely overlooked by critics, it is nonetheless mightily entertaining and a successful film in terms of its own goals—to expose the contradictions inherent in both ex-patriotism, patriotism, and tourism—as well as revealing Peploe's gentle affection for the exotic lands in which she grew up.

Rough Magic , set in the jungles of Mexico in the 1950s, is a road movie and a lively blend of adventure and spirituality. A dark comedy, which some uneasy critics labeled "harsh" and "strange," the film exhibits Peploe's sharp eye for a literary work which will adapt successfully to the screen. Originally a James Hadley Chase story called "Miss Shumway Waves a Wand," Rough Magic tells the story of a young woman's search for a Mexican shaman and for magic, which she ultimately finds both within herself and in hilarious reality. Peploe films the story with such quirky fun that her poke at cultural imperialism passes almost unnoticed.

Peploe continues to collaborate with her husband, and she has taken both her skill at adaptation and her finely tuned sense of irony and humor back to Bertolucci. Their 1999 release, The Besieged , received critical accolades. Adapted from James Lesdun's The Siege , the film recounts the unlikely romance between a British classical musician and his African housekeeper, both living in Italy. Because she is so completely a cinematic rather than a theatrical writer, Peploe has kept her script spare, allowing facial expression and music to drive the movie as clearly as dialog. Critics have praised the gentler, more romantic Bertolucci that is evident in this film.

Peploe has a gift for finding the stories her life has given her a passion to tell, and her point of view is informed by many different cultural perspectives. This multicultural outlook, coupled with an acute sense of mischief, has enabled her to make incisive films that never lose sight of one of cinema's most important functions—to entertain.

—Tina Gianoulis

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