The study of a youth on the edge of adulthood and his aunt, ten years older. Fabrizio is passionate, idealistic, influenced by Cesare, a teacher and Marxist, engaged to the lovely but ...
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Giancarlo De Rosa,
Bernardo Bertolucci, along with co-scenarist Gianni Amico, used Dostoievski's 1846, pre-imprisonment novella The Double: A Petersburg Poem, which they moved to Italy and updated to the pro-Vietcong student-protest present,
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The study of a youth on the edge of adulthood and his aunt, ten years older. Fabrizio is passionate, idealistic, influenced by Cesare, a teacher and Marxist, engaged to the lovely but bourgeois Clelia, and stung by the drowning of his mercurial friend Agostino, a possible suicide. Gina is herself a bundle of nervous energy, alternately sweet, seductive, poetic, distracted, and unhinged. They begin a love affair after Agostino's funeral, then Gina confuses Fabrizio by sleeping with a stranger. Their visits to Cesare and then to Puck, one of Gina's older friends, a landowner losing his land, dramatize contrasting images of Italy's future. Their own futures are bleak.Written by
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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