Splendid Isolation: Bernardo Bertolucci Offers Another Cinematic Gift
Bernardo Bertolucci’s long awaited return to filmmaking after a decade-long absence is a beautifully photographed and provocative coming-of-age drama in the vein of Bertolucci’s “La Luna” and his last film “The Dreamers.”
As its title portends, “Me and You” is an intimate film whose emphasis relies on the connection between its two main characters. The story is about two young people attempting to maintain their individuality and humanity with DIY tools of both impractical and idealistic designs.
The labyrinthine basement of a lush Italian apartment building is the claustrophobic setting where 14-year-old Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) plans to hide out alone for a week rather than attend a school-sponsored snowboarding camp where his mother (Sonia Bergamasco) believes him to be. His mother’s close proximity in their upstairs apartment adds a layer of tension to Lorenzo’s private diversion.
With a small fridge filled with Cokes and junk food, Lorenzo would rather play video games on his laptop in splendid isolation than face the outside world. Jacopo Olmo Antinori’s uncanny resemblance to a young Malcolm McDowell circa “A Clockwork Orange” places him as an awkward young man of untold potential. He is an outlier with an unconventional face, patiently working out what his future should be without acknowledging the advice of his elders. Lorenzo puts on a cold front to his shrink. Although young, he knows how to sidestep the predictable flim-flam of authority figures. Insecure, introverted, and smothered by his relationship with his overbearing mother, Lorenzo desperately needs some quality time alone.
Accidentally discovered by his 25-year-old heroin-addicted stepsister Olivia (Tea Falco), Lorenzo is forced to give up his privacy while her proposed one-night’s stay in the basement with him gets extended to fill up the entire week. Romantic tension bristles between the two as the exotically feminine Sonia directly and obliquely challenges Lorenzo’s still-forming ideas about females and about the world around him. The story’s confined spaces resonate with the empty apartment of “Last Tango in Paris,” where midlife crisis met with nubile sensual revelation. Here, the alchemy between male and female intentionality is altered to accommodate a youthful but just as immediate need for human connection.
Sonia’s view of the woman who stole her father away is not as flattering as Lorenzo’s perception of his mother. As Sonia goes cold turkey, Lorenzo steps up to care for her, even as his curiosity about her feminine nature is piqued.
At 72, and troubled by a health condition that keeps him confined to a wheelchair, the director of such cinematic milestones as “The Conformist” and “1900” has narrowed his focus but lost none of his passion or optimism. “Me and You” is Bertolucci’s most restrained film. Its nuance of humane thematic tones vibrates in a low hum of deeply personal emotional conflict and physical displacement. It is an enduring character study that eschews clichés in favor of the elemental truths governing how young people mature through the choices they make. Lorenzo and Olivia need one another more than they realize, and as much as they intuitively know. Bertolucci seals the film with an homage to Francoise Truffaut that mirrors the final frame of “The 400 Blows.” You can sense the glint of youthful promise in Lorenzo’s eyes. He doesn’t know what the future holds, but he will go there regardless of its dangers, and with more insight than he ever had before.
Not Rated. 106 mins. (A-) (Four Stars – out of five/no halves)