The reason there hasn't been a new Bernardo Bertolucci film for more than ten years is because the now 72-year-old master filmmaker of The Conformist
, Last Tango in Paris
and The Last Emperor
, has been having health problems. His bad back led to multiple surgeries and ultimately left him wheelchair-bound. Me and You
(Io e te
), his first film since The Dreamers
, and his first Italian language film in more than 30 years, is a gentle, affecting coming-of-age story masterfully told.
The film is unexpectedly sweet. Sure, there are a bit of Bertolucci's usual sexual innuendos and brashness but skin is kept to a bare minimum. Don't despair yet, because there is a lot to love in Me and You
. I can see why the project, based on Niccolò Ammaniti's novel, is a perfect fit for Bertolucci, given his physical state: It's a story about a teenage loner and his older junkie sister bonding over the course of
a week, in a self-imposed confinement in the basement of their parent's
apartment building. The director uses the small scope of the story to his advantage in creating something intimate and fresh, giving a well-worn coming-of-age premise a modern, computer-age resonance.
The film starts with Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori), a 14 year-old pimply young Malcolm McDowell lookalike in his therapist's office. The shrink is in his wheelchair and obviously a stand-in for Bertolucci. The boy's got some pre-existing issues but we don't know what. But it's clear from the beginning that Lorenzo enjoys being alone. Always plugged in to his devices, he is one of those kids who are always living in their own heads, relishing in solitude. He fakes going to a school ski trip, sneaks out and in to the stuffy basement of his apartment. He is trying to create his own oasis away from the world and his overbearing mom.
He meticulously calculates provisions (mostly junk food) for a week, brings his computer, a power strip and a freshly purchased ant farm for entertainment. With an old sofa made up as a bed and a water faucet across the hallway, the setup is perfect for a hideout. He just needs to be careful not to get discovered by the building's super and passers-by from the street level.
But Lorenzo's peace is suddenly interrupted by the appearance of his twenty-something half-sister Olivia (sultry Tea Falco). She is heading up to the countryside to join her lover. But first, she needs a place to crash in Rome and retrieve some of her personal stuff. Since she hates Lorenzo's mom, she blackmails Lorenzo to let her stay in his escape pad. At first, with all of Olivia's messy 'adult' problems, her presence is a major annoyance for Lorenzo. But over time, He finds her cultured bohemian artist background intriguing. They really bond while she tries to kick her drug habit cold turkey, in the hopes of reuniting with her lover.
Both characters, however slightly drawn, are completely identifiable and believable. Having characters portrayed by not-too-photogenic unknowns is also very refreshing.
Bertolucci uses a confined space effectively: the tiny shared-space forces the siblings to get closer and share intimate moments. He keeps things light and airy and playful and unobtrusively observes two young people interact as naturally as possible. Fabio Cianchetti, who shot the director's two previous films, Besieged
and The Dreamers
, lovingly lenses the two in the film's dark interiors with a lot of fluid handheld shots and close-ups bathed in dramatic lighting.
If concentrating on youth reinvigorated Bertolucci to direct again despite his conditions and the result is this good, I am all for his future endeavors. Me and You
demonstrates the old master is still up and at it. Me and You opens exclusively at Lincoln Plaza Cinema, NY on 7/4. National rollout will follow. Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com
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