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CANNES – Truffle hounds of rare vintage Europop will be delighted to discover David Bowie’s “Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola.” This 1969 Italian redo of “Space Oddity” is featured prominently on the soundtrack of Me and You, its lyrics seemingly tailor-made to fit the searching, solitary boy at the film’s center. But that musical nugget, sadly, is among the more tangible pleasures of Bernardo Bertolucci’s attenuated consideration of the turmoil of youth, his first feature in almost a decade.
The 20th century maestro’s best films, like The Conformist, pack layers of psychological, sociopolitical, sexual and emotional complexity that make them still riveting today. Bertolucci’s health issues have drastically reduced his mobility in recent years, leaving him plagued by chronic pain and largely dependent on a wheelchair. It’s a testament to his strength of will that he was able to make another movie at all, and the small scale and concentration in one primary location of this project clearly were planned to make the shoot as physically manageable as possible.
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The director’s first Italian-language feature in 30 years, Me and You recalls two of his most recent chamber pieces – neither of them among his best work. It evokes the claustrophobic confinement of Besieged and, like The Dreamers, it indulgently observes adolescent affectation in a hermetic world.
The screenplay was adapted from the novel of the same title (originally Io e Te) by Italian author Niccolo Ammaniti, best known internationally for the more dramatically robust 2003 Gabriele Salvatores feature, I’m Not Scared. But based on the evidence of what’s onscreen here, this book seems more like a protracted short story; it remains stubbornly literary, precious and thin in the hands of co-writers Ammaniti, Umberto Contarello, Francesca Marciano and Bertolucci.
Perhaps suggesting how he sees his role these days, Bertolucci introduces the main character of 14-year-old Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) finishing up a session with his wheelchair-bound psychotherapist (Pippo Delbono). Something of an outsider at high school, Lorenzo’s antisocial behavior is hinted at in the smothering concerns of his mother (an insufferably strained Sonia Bergamasco). She is thrilled that he has agreed to go on a week-long school ski trip, hoping it will draw him out of his shell.
Pocketing the money for the trip, he spends it instead on provisions, faking his departure and holing up alone in the basement of the family’s apartment building with music, books, an ant farm and an active fantasy life for entertainment. But when his heroin-addicted older half-sister Olivia (Tea Falco) crashes into his hideout needing a place to go cold turkey, his carefully planned isolation is destroyed.
Their days and nights of shared clandestine confinement yield an uninvolving chronicle of clashes, confessions, flirtation and growing closeness. With scant incident, the encounter inches toward the mutual pact that Olivia will stop hiding from reality in drugs if Lorenzo will just stop hiding from the world, period. The issues of neither character are explored with great subtlety, though making Olivia a visual artist with a photographic series titled “I Am a Wall” is really clobbering us over the head.
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A lot of banality gets passed off here as profound thought. That and the somewhat self-conscious actors make it difficult to engage much with either character.
Themes of class have often surfaced in Bertolucci’s work, and there are glimmers of them in the half-siblings’ unseen father having ditched Olivia’s mother, a flashy shoe-saleswoman from southern Catania, in favor of the more bourgeois Roman model of Lorenzo’s mother. The debris of the impoverished aristocracy also fills the basement in the possessions of a now-deceased countess from whom their father bought the apartment for a fraction of its worth. But none of this musters much heft in what’s pretty much an apolitical film.
Bertolucci remains an elegant craftsman. The crisp definition and textured lighting of Fabio Cianchetti’s cinematography, as well as Jean Rabasse’s resourceful production design lend visual life and density to the confined setting. And Franco Piersanti’s fretful, scratchy string score is interspersed to good effect with tracks by The Cure, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Arcade Fire, as well as both versions of the aforementioned Bowie song.
As rewarding as it would be, however, to report that Bertolucci has returned with a meaningful work, this is a film that adds little of significance to the much-traveled cinematic roads of youthful solitude and confusion.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Out of Competition)
Production companies: Fiction, Mario Gianani, Wildside, in association with Medusa Film
Cast: Jacopo Olmo Antinori, Tea Falco, Sonia Bergamasco, Veronica Lazar, Rommaso Ragno, Pippo Delbono
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Screenwriters: Niccolo Ammaniti, Umberto Contarello, Francesca Marciano, Bernardo Bertolucci, based on Ammaniti’s novel, “Io e Te”
Producer: Mario Gianani
Director of photography: Fabio Cianchetti
Production designer: Jean Rabasse
Music: Franco Piersanti
Costume designer: Metka Kosak
Editor: Jacopo Quadri
Sales: Hanway Films
No rating, 97 minutes
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