Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Bernardo Bertolucci has a habit of holing his characters up into enclosed and claustrophobic spaces. Think of Puyi’s Forbidden City in The Last Emperor, Isabelle and Théo’s house in The Dreamers and the apartment in Last Tango in Paris. In Io e Te (Me and You) he takes his conceptual guideline to the extreme. Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) is an anti-social fourteen-year-old boy who hates school. His mother, worried about her son’s unfriendly streak, sends him to a psychotherapist, and is relieved when he takes interest in a school skiing trip. But instead of getting on the bus, Lorenzo sneaks away and sets up an extravagant fort in his basement.
Antinori gives a unique performance. As an awkward adolescent he does not victimise himself, but rather gives a much fuller performance as a young man who is quite content being alone. All is well for Lorenzo until his drug-addled half-sister Olivia (Tea Falco) turns up and begs for shelter. The relationship between the two is complex. We learn about Olivia’s drug problem, artistic aspirations, love affairs and her relationship with her family. The two grow close. Falco is electrifying.
The problem with Bertolucci’s latest is that it is far too slight. There are some interesting scenes, a particularly nice moment features Olivia singing along to David Bowie’s Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola (the Italian version of his super-hit Space Oddity), but the majority of the film centre’s on the odd pairing of Lorenzo and Olivia. They learn about themselves through each other. Who would have seen that coming? Olivia promises not to do drugs anymore and Lorenzo promises not to hide himself away anymore. And then they leave the basement.
The final shot of the film is a homage to Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, a completely arbitrary and unearned throwback. Jean-Pierre Leaud’s Antoine is a child troubled because he is never given a chance. The character’s in Bertolucci’s film are given opportunities and choose to ignore them.
This film is fine. It looks deliciously old-fashioned and I’m sure it wouldn’t have looked out of place thirty years ago, but it’s a celibate and claustrophobic affair for a director used to creating beauty out of grand settings, tortured characters and sudden changes. It’s Bertolucci locked in a basement with nothing but an ant farm and a pair of headphones. Let’s hope it’s just a practise run for a more productive decade ahead.