The filmmaker, who is wheelchair-bound, was honoured for his career achievements at the event's opening ceremony, picking up a special Palme d'Or award from this year's (11) festival jury president Robert De Niro.
De Niro, who appeared in Bertolucci's classic film 1900, told reporters, "I'm happy for Bernardo and I'm happy it's happening for him."
Bertolucci admits he once feared his ailing health would put an end to his film career, but seeing James Cameron's blockbuster Avatar inspired him to embrace new technology such as 3D and motion-capture.
He says, "In the last five-six years, I was sure I wouldn't have done any more movies. Then a year ago I started to realise that even in a wheelchair I could imagine my movements, especially my dolly (camera track) movements.
"I had this idea... because I've seen Avatar, and I loved Avatar, and I was fascinated by it, the 3D, and then I started to think why is 3D considered only good for horror or science fiction or this kind of movie? I thought if 8 1/2 by Fellini was in 3D wouldn't it be great?"