Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Starring Tea Falco and Jacopo Olmo Antinori. In Italian, with English subtitles. Rated PG.
Italian master Bernardo Bertolucci is no stranger to coming-of-age tales; his breakthrough Before the Revolution followed an adolescent through turbulent times, echoed meekly in his last feature, The Dreamers. And he’s fond of claustrophobic two- and three-handers, as in the disturbing false intimacy of The Conformist or the oleaginous yearning of Last Tango in Paris.
The 72-year-old writer-director has always depended on the physical charisma of his actors, and here, for his first film in over a decade, Bertolucci adapts a thin novella and seeks out a kind of antibeauty—the opposite of his dreadful Stealing Beauty—by casting acne-scarred newcomer Jacopo Olmo Antinori as Lorenzo, an introverted 14-year-old with what seems an unhealthy connection to his youngish single mother (Sonia Bergamasco, bringing a hint of Jill Clayburgh in the director’s La Luna).
The alienated lad pretends to go on an expensive ski trip with his high-school class when he’s actually planned a week in the basement storage room of the family’s handsome old apartment building. Exactly what’s pissing him off is only hinted at as he buys an ant farm to watch, godlike, and methodically stacks seven cans of Coca-Cola in his underground lair.
Lorenzo’s plans for total self-absorption are soon foiled by the sudden arrival of an older half-sister, Olivia (Tea Falco), a junkie looking for a place to go cold turkey. There are misleading hints of incest and violence early on, and some surrealistic images that never return. The fierce-eyed, curly-haired lead resembles a cross between Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange and Bonnie and Clyde’s Michael J. Pollard. And Falco makes you think of Lauren Bacall with bad skin and teeth.
That stuff may not matter, but negative star power, lack of relatable conflict, and psychological murkiness don’t, you know, automatically make a flat tale interesting. And ending the forgettably titled Me and You with a 400 Blows freeze-frame while David Bowie sings “Space Oddity” doesn’t make it contemporary, either. Good that Bertolucci keeps practising, though.