Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Movie Review: Me and You

Me and You
Directed by: Bernardo Bertolucci.
Written by: Niccolò Ammaniti & Umberto Contarello & Francesca Marciano & Bernardo Bertolucci based on the novel by Niccolò Ammaniti.
Starring: Tea Falco (Olivia), Jacopo Olmo Antinori (Lorenzo), Sonia Bergamasco (Lorenzo's mother), Veronica Lazar (Lorenzo's grandmother), Tommaso Ragno (Ferdinando), Pippo Delbono (Pychologist).

Bernardo Bertolucci has made a number of masterpieces during his 50 year directing career – chief among them The Conformist (1970), Last Tango in Paris (1973) and The Last Emperor (1987). After his previous film, The Dreamers (2003) – an odd love triangle between a brother, sister and an American visitor all of whom are obsessed with cinema in 1968 Paris, it appeared his directing career was over. He was sick, and could no longer walk. It took him until 2012 to direct another film – Me and You, which is just now getting a cursory release in North America. It doesn’t rank anywhere near his best films – it is a little too slight, and is basically a two hander set almost entirely in a basement between a half brother and sister who barely know each other, and who both, for a short time anyway, want to hide from the world. I never really believed these characters – they never become real, just figments of the various writers’ imagination rather than fully rounded characters. But it is also an undeniable Bertolucci film, which considering many thought we would never see another one, is reason to celebrate for cinephiles.

The film stars Jacopo Olmo Antinori as Lorenzo – a pimpled, unpopular 15 year old kid from an affluent family, who doesn’t want to do anything except put on his headphones and listen to music. When his whole class is heading on a ski trip, he sees his opportunity to get away from his normal life – not by going with them, but by pretending to, and hiding out in his family`s apartment building basement. He buys junk food, and plans on spending a week alone in the dark, listening to music and reading. But his solitary paradise is soon intruded upon by Olivia (Tea Falco), the half-sister from a previous marriage of his father, who he barely knows. She shows up looking for things of hers to pawn – she`s a junkie – but soon returns because she has nowhere else to go. She wants to get clean, and thinks spending time with Lorenzo in the basement will give her that chance. He doesn’t have much of a choice – she pretty much blackmails him into letting her stay. And so the two form an uneasy bond that slowly strengthens throughout the movie. With many Bertolucci movies, you may expect this to turn erotic – even though the two are related, and 10 years apart in age. After all, Bertolucci has addressed incest before  - in The Dreamers and La Luna – and there is slightly disturbing scene early in the movie when Lorenzo`s mother takes him to a restaurant, and he pressures her by asking if they were the last two people on earth if she would sleep with him to save humanity. She isn’t amused. But Bertolucci doesn’t go that far in this film. He settles for allowing the two to get to know each other – and love each other like brothers and sister should. They didn’t know each other when the film opens, but do – at least as much as they can – by the end.

The setup and the characters in Me and You are never really believable. While it isn’t unbelievable to think that a teenage boy would want to be alone, I had difficulty accepting what Lorenzo does in the film – in particular because the film never bothers to explain it. For her part, Olivia has model good looks, but is basically a junkie stereotype – whose secrets aren’t all that surprising.

Yet despite this, Bertolucci does a fine job with the direction of the film – he takes on the challenge of having one location for the vast majority of the movie – and having that location be a dark basement – and yet still making the film cinematic. There is never a doubt of who the director of the film is – as it is clearly shot by a master like Bertolucci, and does bare some superficial relations to some of his best films.   

Me and You never really works as well I think Bertolucci wants it to. It never really gains any momentum, nor exposes any real truths about modern teenagers or familial relationships. In many ways, it plays like a film Bertolucci made to prove he could still make a film – which after 9 years away, was a legitimate concern. The film is minor Bertolucci to be sure – but its still Bertolucci. If it doesn’t really work, well, at least we got to see a filmmaker of Bertolucci's skill work behind the camera at least one more time. It’s not enough to make Me and You a good film – but it’s good enough that for his fans, it’s a must see.

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