Prima della rivoluzione | Before the Revolution
DIRECTOR: Bernardo Bertolucci | WRITERS: Bernardo Bertolucci, Gianni Amico | CAST: Francesco Barilli, Adriana Asti, Allen Midgette, Morando Morandini, Cristina Pariset | Italy
It’s absolutely astonishing that Bernardo Bertolucci was only 22 years old when he directed Prima della rivoluzione. That said, the movie does not wear its influences lightly: it’s Godard all the way (especially Masculin féminin) with a heaping helping of Antonioni, but given Bertolucci’s youth I was charmed rather than irritated. Fabrizio is a conflicted young man: on the one hand he’s a committed if purely theoretical and idealistic Communist who wants to believe that he’s in the vanguard of the Revolution, but on the other he’s a member of Parma’s bourgeoisie: he’s engaged to marry a pretty but rather typical girl of his own class, he dutifully attends opening night at Parma’s opera house (filmed on location; it’s Verdi’s Macbeth we see from the audience and it sounds like the divine Leyla Gencer singing “Vieni t’affretta” on the soundtrack), and so on. Fabrizio’s youngish maternal aunt from Milan — an “Antonioni heroine” suffering from existential malaise — comes to the family home for an extended visit, and the two begin an affair. Will Fabrizio break with his bourgeois upbringing or won’t he? Is he living during the Revolution or before it? And in addition to all this there’s a very strong sense of (supressed?) homoeroticism between Fabrizio and his doomed close friend Agostino, an intense fellow true-believer Marxist. Reminder: Bertolucci was 22 when he wrote and directed this.
I especially liked two scenes. In one, Fabrizio takes Gina to a church with a camera obscura trained on the small piazza outside and asks her to look through it as he goes out to mug for her. She does and the view is in saturated color (the movie is in black and white). He comes back in and asks Gina if she liked the “movie”: “Nice, eh? For cinéma-vérité it wasn’t bad. In color.” In the other, Fabrizio is aimlessly walking around and drifts into the Supercinema Orfeo which just happens to be showing Godard’s new movie Une femme est une femme. Afterwards, Fabrizio and another man talk about movies in a nearby caffè and the name-dropping and pretentious film-talk go into overdrive: years from now Anna Karina will be future generations’ version of our Louise Brooks, they decide, and they talk passionately about The Big Sleep, Nicholas Ray and Rosi and Rossellini and Resnais, the morality of tracking shots, and so on. I got a chuckle. Plus two points for Bertolucci’s sheer cinematic talent alone: 60 year old directors with 20 movies under their belts should be thrilled to make movies that look and flow as well as this.