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For a while, forget about Bernardo Bertolucci's "ventures into Hollywood"
(for example, "Little Buddha," featuring Keannu Reeves) and find time to see
his "little-known" work, "Before the Revolution" (his second feature film,
which was made in his native country and when he was just 22 years old).
More than a "nostalgic" tribute to the "present," the film is closer in spirit and style to the French New Wave films (see, for example, Jean-Luc Godard's "A Bout de Souffle" and Francois Truffaut's "Jules et Jim";as a matter of fact, Bertolucci's film was contemporaneous with these works).
In the film, you'll find a bedazzling mixture of narrative styles (those relating to camera movements and angles, editing, photographic effects and musical score;my favorites are the "optical room" scene and the old man painting by the lakeside), characters who are always "running away" from something (from social conventions and pressures, from others as well as from themselves) and for whom to live is to discourse (with other people or with themselves), and a "romantic" and "apolitical" stance toward a relevant sociopolitical issue ( in this case, the workers' uprising and the Revolution of 1948).
Initially slow and hard to get by, but the film eventually engages the viewers' attention as "love" starts to develop between the aunt (Gina) and the nephew (Fabrizio), which other people may find "scandalous," but is treated in such a casual and indifferent manner that the result is "unaffecting" (much like the way the menage-a-trois was treated in "Jules et Jim"), and as one gets to know more (or does one?) the quirky and enigmatic characters.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I first saw this egregiously brilliant film by an egregiously talented
young director at a private screening for members of the American
Federation of Film Societies at the 34th Street East Theatre in
Manhattan in 1965. I was overwhelmed by so many things in it and longed
to see it again. When it opened commercially I kept going back to see
it in the way fans of "Star Wars" go repeatedly to see what they love.
I love it, though it often makes me as nervous and unsettled as the
character of Gina in the film each time I re-see it on video.
The movie is very loosely based on Stendhal's "The Charterhouse of Parma." Parma is where the film is set, where Bertolucci is from, in the region of Giuseppe Verdi, whose music is heard in the film. At its core is a rather uncomplicated story of a young idealist, Fabrizio, who realizes his ideas will probably never be realized. He is adored by his neurotic and probably nymphomaniac aunt Gina, sent to Parma to visit family by her psychiatrist in Milan, where she lives...to have her "get away" for a while. Adriana Asti gives a dynamic performance that steals the movie from everyone else, especially from Fabrizio, who seems a boring dullard throughout, probably Bertolucci's intention, though played convincingly by Franco Barilli.
The lyric elements of the movie and its persistent aural/visual poetry are what struck me the most. There is a scene at the start of the movie when Fabrizio finds out his friend has committed suicide through drowning. Fabrizio stands at the swim-hole area by some pylons and and watches in dazed iciness as a group of young boys in bathing suits make their way out of the water. Camera dissolves are accompanied by rapturous music of Ennio Morricone (one of his best scores and never issued on disc, as far as I know.) Fabrizio asks a young boy "Does it seem right to you?"...as if a pubescent kid could answer questions about life's tragedies. On every level I find that scene and those moments stunning.
Many point justly to great set pieces in the movie, such as the one with the aging land-owner Puck, now on hard times, who is about to lose his heavily mortgaged estates. He begins a lament for the past (the true theme of the movie!), and just when you think he's said enough for us to understand, the scene lurches into a sudden leap, expanding and becoming utterly mad and grandiose, even haywire, as the lament continues and the camera swoops over the soon-to-be-lost-lands in a helicopter shot and as Morricone provides an operatic counterpoint and propels us all into some unspeakable dimension of regretful melancholia.
Operatic the movie is, stylistically, and in a fabulous scene at the Parma Opera, quite literally. At the opening night of Verdi's "Macbeth" the various strata of Parmesan society are seen at their levels in the theatre, the bourgeoisie at the orchestra level, the aristocrats in posh side boxes, even the communist party members clustered closely in their own upper "people's box." The scene suggests the La Fenice opera scene in Visconti's "Senso." So much in the film is an homage to other directors, Godard, Rossellini, Hawks, all of whom are referred to specifically, occasionally by his film buff friend. Fabrizio's closest friend and role model is the gentle leftist teacher Cesare.
By the end of the film, Gina goes back to Milan, Fabrizio loses faith in the party and marries his dull but well-positioned childhood sweetheart, Clelia. No revolution for Fabrizio. He is, with his "nostalgia for the present" condemned to live "before the revolution" as most of us are who have no appetite for revolution, only for living.
The final scene has Fabrizio marrying Clelia. It is hard to believe that Bertolucci could top what has preceded it in the movie, but he does, I think. In it the brief marriage scene is inter-cut with Cesare reading to his young pupils from the "Moby Dick" story of Captain Ahab in pursuit of the while whale. As Ahab pursued the impossible, the characters of this film pursue the impossible. Gina is at the wedding, wrenched, jealous, crying. In a series of moments which Andrew Sarris referred to as "electrifying," Gina repeatedly kisses the young adolescent brother of Fabrizio. Over and over. On the face. On the head. Her young nephew. She cannot stop. She is driven, by envy, by regret. She cries. The harpsichord-enriched musical moment of Morricone underscores the Euripidean hysterics. There is a freeze-frame. A film masterpiece ends.
On occasion while watching Bernardo Bertoulcci's Before the Revolution,
which I have done about four times within the past year, I really felt
like I was watching someone with a full love of cinema. Not just of how
it can distort our perceptions of reality by how close or far or
following the subjects are, but that there's a certain purity to it.
When a filmmaker has this much bursting out of him at 22, 23 years old,
you're bound to find it coming out much like someone that age- still on
the brink of life, full of ideas, and still treated in a couple of
minor, even unintentional ways, as a kid.
Bertolucci tapped into the vein of the changing of the guard in European cinema with vitality. Like in poetry, the moods and music in the language (or, here, the grammar of film itself) tends to move along with the expressions used to make it so personal you know no one else could have done it this way. Even when it might stumble the film almost seems to pick itself back up, plunging us right into the gut of its subject matter. At times only Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci's masterpiece, came close with its honesty of what's going on in the world for these people.
And, in truth, the film's structure would not work without some level of honesty to the viewer, or at the least saying with the random, seemingly sometimes mundane set of events 'it's got to be this way, at least for this character.' How much of it is based from Bertolucci's life I'm not certain. But his lead character, Fabrizio (Francesco Barilli, in a splendidly conflicted performance), is not necessarily a great young future leader of men or something. He's a bourgeois -the word is used quite a number of times in the film- and filled with ideals about a Marxist-style revolution, perhaps.
For the most part though he wanders, thinks in quotes, and is close to his Aunt Gina (Adriana Asti, perfect for the part). It is dealing with this relationship that the filmmaker has to find his stride most, and he does. It goes from quiet, to cute, to talkative, to confused, then to something more risqué- passionate. When the character's cross the line, one may want to suddenly find some of what proceeds as taboo. It's not the case.
What turns Before the Revolution into something not as troubling as the subject matter might appear, Bertolucci utilizes a style that corresponds with the scatter-shot frame of mind in the character's story. The plot is 'linear', but there are times where the sort of Italian frame of romanticism comes into play as well. Because the poetry of the emotions helps make this not as potentially pretentious as some of these scenes could come across, it is not without notice that upon once or twice times the subject matter goes into confusing points.
The scenes late in the film involving Puck, for example, become so into the realm of the literary that it goes beyond interesting and into the dangerous realm of the self-indulgent (which is understandable given the filmmaker's talents). Though Italian to the bone, here and there I almost wondered if at times Truffaut and Godard, switching off like hitters in a batting cage, were in the back of Bertolucci's mind as he wrote the script or filmed a scene.
It doesn't hurt at all, of course, that two great musicians contribute to the film. One is Ennio Morricone, who co-wrote the music and performed for the film, and though not mentioned on IMDb, the great Gato Barbieri is also credited in the music. It's not just them but also the whole backbone of the music in the film. It adds that kick that is in many an Italian romance/drama, and also touches of ironic humor, of the joyfulness of youth (i.e. riding the bike early on), and songs used for effectiveness ahead of its time.
By also entrusting much of his own vision into the hands and eyes of Aldo Scavarda, Bertolucci gets cinematography that makes it apparent how with many of his films his style is apparent in every one. That it starts off so rough, yet with delicacy, and combining it with a lot to contemplate in terms of what love is, what politics mean for the well off and the not-so well off, and an uneasy feeling of hopelessness. It's one of the more breathtaking visions to come from a director younger than 25 in the post-Italian new-wave.
It's not too much of a wonder then Scorsese lists this as his primary influence to make Who's That Knocking at my Door. 9.5/10
Before the Revolution, Bernardo Bertolucci's second film, is kind of a
He was only 22 when he made it, and he must have made it immediately after
he finished his first film, Grim Reaper. It's obvious that he's a genius
from this film. Like I said, it's kind of a mess, but no more beautiful
has ever been created in the cinema.
The story is difficult to follow at times, but it is basically about a young bourgeois man who falls in love with his young aunt. Their relationship is socially unacceptable, so it immediately begins to break apart. As it does, politics rush into the film, confused politics, probably representing Bertolucci's own conflicting feelings at this point. The whole film feels very personal.
I don't know. I really didn't catch too much of, well, what's going on. Which sounds bad, but there's a good reason for my missing everything: Bertolucci's direction is breathtaking. It is a nice cross between French New Wave and the Modernist movement that the Italian filmmakers were going through at the time. Bertolucci throws every single cinematic trick into the film that he can fathom. Everything works, though. It's showy, to be sure, but it's never less than one of the most beautiful things I've ever experienced. It never seems less than amazing. The emotions of the film - and they really hit home, even if the story is difficult to follow - are fractured and manic.
I need to watch Before the Revolution again. I feel, though, that even if I find it completely flawed the second time around, it could be nothing less than the greatest flawed masterpiece ever produced. 10 years after Before the Revolution, Bernardo Bertolucci directed what I consider my third favorite film, Last Tango in Paris. By then, he had perfected his style. I'll be adding another Bertolucci film to my list of favorites tonight.
One of the typical ploys of modernist artists has been to take a known
work, and to use that as a basis for experimentation. In this case,
Bernardo Bertolucci (at the age of 22!) took Stendhal's novel THE
CHARTERHOUSE OF PARMA and used the basic plot and characters, only
Bertolucci abstracted these elements, taking them for granted and
simply creating a wide-ranging collage of impressions and emotions. But
the central love affair between Fabrizio and his aunt, Gina (the names
of the characters in the Stendhal), is the motivating heart of the
film; the suggestions of incest, the need for secrecy, the impacted
emotion because of the covertness: these provide PRIMA DELLA
RIVOLUZIONE with a core of great integrity, so that the more "random"
elements (the scene with the lament on the lake, the scene at the
opera, the scene where the friend rides the bicycle in circles, etc.)
are able to reflect on Bertolucci's feelings regarding politics, class,
revolution, art, the search for belief.
PRIMA DELLA RIVOLUZIONE is one of the most youthful films ever made, as well it should be, since it was made by someone who was impossibly young at the time. I hate to say this, but it's the work of a prodigy, a gifted post-adolescent who is trying to find a form to contain his sometimes overwrought feelings about life, love, and politics. There had been many works catering to the teen crowd, movies like WHERE THE BOYS ARE or BEACH PARTY, but, aside from some of the works of Nicholas Ray (THEY LIVE BY NIGHT and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE), no film artist had yet tried to use the medium as a vehicle for a vision of youthful passions from the inside: Godard would follow with MASCULINE FEMININE and LA CHINOISE, Bertolucci with FISTS IN THE POCKET, Skolimowski with LE DEPART and DEEP END, but Bertolucci was pioneering when he made this movie, and the fact that it's "flawed" should not be held against it, as it represents the expression of a very young artist, trying to express his emotions as directly as possible.
I was somewhat reluctant about this film. I felt that I would be
disappointed cause The Sheltering Sky (by Bertolucci) is one of my
favorite movies. I though that I could never like another film by him.
I was wrong. Above all, they are very different films, so let's forget
one of them.
I remember when I first saw Fellini's 8 ½, and realizing that one of the reasons I loved it so much was the camera work and especially what you could call as the "relative motion between objects": the way the moon always stays in the same place as the trees pass by when you drive at night. Prima della Revoluzione is rich of beautiful camera work. Bertolucci tried it all, being so young. There are smooth movements like a ballet and stressful agitated shots. I felt humbled and privileged as I saw this film. Apart from more technical aspects, the movie interested me because of the abstract, strange and poetic love story between Gina and young idealist, Fabrizio. It's hard to say if it is love, why it is or not love Here and there you will find beautiful monologues I think this will touch everyone who has ever wanted to change the world even if you have already forgotten those feelings.
While hailed as many as a masterpiece (or near), I struggled with
Bertolucci's 2nd film, made when he was only 23, although I am a fan of
his in general. Beautifully shot, great use of music and unconventional
editing, the film is excellent on a film-making and craft level
(although it perhaps borrows too liberally from leading film-makers of
the era, especially Godard, Antonioni and Resnais).
The story of a young bourgeois man trying to come to terms with his tear between his attraction to communism and his desire for an easier life leads him into an incestuous affair with his somewhat older aunt. I found it's themes somewhat muddled, alternating between being heavy-handedly spelled out, or so obtuse I wasn't sure what a given scene was saying.
The acting in particular seems a bit all over the place; understated to the point of flatness in one scene, and then almost theatrically over the top the next. At the end I felt glad I'd seen the film, but it didn't stick with me the way Bertolucci's first film "La Commare Secca" or his third "Partner" did. ("Partner" deals with some of the same themes, but in a far more playful, often comedic way). There was a film-school sort of pretentiousness and emotional distance in "Before the Revolution that kept me from feeling moved or from being led to think deeply about the ideas.
That said, I am willing to revisit it and see if my reaction changes, and certainly I enjoyed Bertolucci's already masterful use of image and sound, even if the ends he was using them to were a bit muddled.
Is it immoral for a nephew and aunt to have an affair? ...who cares? -
the question is barely raised. This is the Italian New Wave, a
cineaste's dream; forget the story, for style is everything.
Bertolucci's second film, at age 22, still owes a lot to his mentor Pasolini, but now he has taken on board Godard of "A Woman is a Woman" and Truffaut of "Jules and Jim". It's hopelessly overloaded with style but that makes it fascinating to watch. You never know what the camera is going to do next. A long monologue by Adrianna Asti contains so many zooms, pans, cross-cuts, reverse shots, asymmetrical framing, you name it - it's insane. You stop listening to what she is saying and just wonder what on earth Bertolucci is playing at. Playing at making movies I suppose.
It's all fairly aimless but is beautifully shot and the script is quite fine. Asti seems natural as the fragile aunt and Bertolucci makes the most of her - there are moments when she's nudging Audrey Hepburn. There's plenty of gay subtext - a notable feature of many Bertolucci films, for anyone apt to enquire into such things - it certainly assists interpretation.
Hardly juvenilia; if you're in the mood, this is a near masterpiece.
It's strange to think that Bertolucci was only 23 when he did this film, but then it makes perfect sense cause the story loosely centers around a young man approaching adulthood. It's even stranger to realize that only 8 years later he directed 'The Last Tango in Paris' where his protagonist already experiences his midlife crises. Back in 1964 Bertolucci's main interest was not story telling but rather to find a new visual language to portray his generation. Heavily influenced by the Nouvelle Vague, Godard in particular, that he even mentions at some length here, Bertolucci is eager to break with as many (cinematographic) conventions as possible, but the imagery he develops in the process is so beautiful that this is a delight to watch from beginning to end. Also it serves as a reminder that there was actually a time when there seemed to be an alternative to capitalism, though the revolution is only talked about. The whole thing works like a kaleidoscope or mosaic of the time. At first I had trouble to follow the plot because scenes don't necessarily respond to each other in a cause and effect kinda way but once I realized that an ongoing story is not what this is about I was able to relax and enjoy the scenery even more. And though our heroes suffer from first signs of disillusion, back then everything seemed possible, whether it was changing our society or changing the aesthetics of cinema. What interesting times.
Allegedly based on Stendahl's Charterhouse of Parma (Parma is about the only thing the film and the book have in common) this literate, evocative masterpiece was made by Bertolucci in his early twenties. It is, among other things, an astoundingly clear-headed study of a certain kind of haute bourgeois flirtation with (communist) ideology. As Fabrizio, the main character observes, "For me ideology was simply a vacation". Bertolucci, himself a haute bourgeoisie who maintained long-time sympathy for the communist party, nicely contrasts Fabrizio with his mentor, the poor elementary school teacher Cesare who lives the life of a committed party member. When Fabrizio complains that the masses the party is allegedly fighting for simply want the same empty life enjoyed by the bourgeoisie, while he joined the party in the hopes of creating a new man, his mentor simply replies that the workers want to better their economic conditions and that is right. There are two scenes involving speeches of dazzling virtuosity; one where a once rich landowner says goodbye to the estate that is soon to be taken from him, "Here life finishes, and survival begins", and a scene were Fabrizio coins the immortal phrase "Nostalgia for the present". Both the black and white photography and the imposing classical score add to the poignancy of this dreamy farewell paean to a naïve, idealistic, sensibility, that for some time animated the better hearts of educated middle class Europe and somehow managed to live on in a kind of phantasmagoric existence even after the events of 39-45 the film is set in the early 60s. As a coming of age film it cleverly juxtaposes questions of political disenchantment with romantic (as in sexual) enlightenment; again the wise Cesare reproaches Fabrizio for confusing his alleged disappointment with ideology with his inability to face his botched relationship with Gina his first love (and his aunt!). Some will find this film rather slow and overly literate. Others will find the key interest of the film lies in its technical virtuosity and its playful references to the work of French Nouvelle Vague auteurs. Both reactions are a sad measure of how far the world Bertolucci so successfully evokes has receded from memory; as Bertolucci quotes from Talleyrand in the prologue to the film "Those who did not live before the revolution do not know how sweet life can be".
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