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
Very early flawed but interesting work by Bertolucci
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.
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