Me and You

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/28/14 12:46:48

"Non Andare In Catina!"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

If "Me and You" had be made by virtually any other filmmaker, I would have most likely written it off as an awkwardly contrived and executed minor-key melodrama and just left it at that. The problem with that is that it was directed and co-written by none other than the legendary Bernardo Bertolucci, the man behind such masterpieces as "The Conformist," "Last Tango in Paris," "1900" and "The Last Emperor," and not only is it his first feature film since 2004's "The Dreamers," it is the first film that he has made in his native Italian in over 30 years. With a pedigree like that, expectations are naturally raised in the heart of any serious moviegoer but the fact of the matter is that this is a disappointingly substandard work from a director whose very name conjures up, if not greatness, a sense of artistic ambition that is mostly lacking here.

Our subject is Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori), a 14-year-old poor little rich boy with an absent father, an infinitely patient mother and a sense of himself as some kind of introvert too delicate for the world around him that manifests itself in acting like an obnoxiously spoiled brat whenever he doesn't get his way. Between his total self-absorption and his creepy, hollow-eyed look, he seems like the prime candidate for an Italian version of "We Need to Talk About Kevin" but it turns out that his plans are neither that homicidal nor that interesting. With an upcoming week-long class ski trip coming up, he acts as if he is going to attend--much to the excitement of his mother, who is happy to see him finally making an effort to join in with the world around him--but instead sneaks back to the apartment building where his family lives so that he can spend the week by himself living undetected in the basement.

His peace and quiet is ruined almost instantly by the unexpected arrival of Olivia (Tea Falco), his older half-sister from his father's first marriage who has turned up to grab some things stored in the basement. She returns later on to demand that Lorenzo let her spend the night there as well--she has no place else to go and does not get along with the woman who took her father away--and while Lorenzo refuses at first--he doesn't want to jeopardize being discovered and barely knows Olivia anyway--he reluctantly agrees when she threatens to reveal his secret if he doesn't let her crash. The promise of leaving after one night proves to be false when she announces that she is planning to stay a few more days in order to overcome her heroin addiction by going cold turkey. Over the next few days, in between the pouting and puking, the two eventually begin to grow closer together and at long last begin to develop what may be the first real relationship that either of them has ever been part of in their lives.

Although "Me and You" is ostensibly based on a novel, unread by me, by Niccolo Ammanati (who also co-wrote the screenplay) , anyone who has studied Bertolucci's films over the years are likely to find a number of parallels between the themes and ideas presented here and those found in his previous works, including twisted familial dynamics ("Luna," "The Dreamers"), drug addiction ("La Luna"), people deliberately isolating themselves from the world around them ("Besieged," "The Dreamers") and the growing relationship between a young semi-innocent and a more worldly and cynical type (a gender flip on the Marlon Brando/Maria Schneider dynamic from "Last Tango in Paris"). Whether these elements were present in the original story or were added to the screenplay by Bertolucci and his three co-workers later I cannot say but as a result, anyone watching this film with even the slightest familiarity with his filmography are going to find themselves making comparisons between the two and in virtually every case, it is this film that comes up wanting.

Bertolucci's career has had its occasional hiccups--his adaptation of "The Sheltering Sky" never quite managed to find a cinematic equivalent to its legendary prose and both "Little Buddha" and "Stealing Beauty" were as emotionally empty as they were visually ravishing--even his weakest films have had a genuine sense of directorial drive to them that suggested that they were stories that he needed to tell, even if he wasn't quite sure of how to properly execute them. By comparison, "Me and You" feels utterly perfunctory, the kind of placeholder film that a veteran director makes for no other reason than to simply keep busy while waiting for a more immediately engaging project to come along. This would be bad enough if Bertolucci was someone cranking out a movie a year a la Woody Allen--where the occasional misstep is to be expected--but since this is his first film in over a decade, the lethargy is all the more mystifying. When Francis Coppola emerged from a similar pause in his directorial career to reinvent himself with such low-profile and low-budget works as "Youth Without Youth," "Tetro" and "Twixt," you could feel the energy of a master craftsman challenging himself instead of falling back on the tried and true even if you disliked the results, which most of you apparently did. By comparison, "Me and You" gives us a Bertolucci who is simply going through the motions--a notion that will be unspeakably depressing to most cineastes.

Another major problem with the film is that it require viewers to spend 100 minutes in the company of two of the more singularly unlikable and uninteresting characters in Bertolucci's oeuvre. Of course, his films have had their fair share of off-putting characters in the past but he at least took the care to make them interesting people despite, or perhaps because of, their shortcomings. Here, our young anti-hero is such a irritating and borderline malevolent little twerp--one prone to violent and whiny fits of rage whenever he doesn't get his way--that he seems less in need of a therapist than in an exorcist. He is so appalling that he somehow makes his sister--the junkie thief who is constantly screaming and throwing up as the result of heroin withdrawal--seem more likable and cuddly by comparison. The two young actors scream and yell and emote like all get out but they never come across as anything resembling actual human beings and when the narrative seems to flirt with the notion of them getting closer than half-siblings should get (a not-unthinkable notion for anyone who saw "Luna" and "The Dreamers"), it is so unconvincing that one can't decide whether to be annoyed that Bertolucci raises this possibility only to abandon it or to be relieved that we don't have to bear witness to what might have been the most unbelievable scenes in a film filled with them.

As I said earlier, if "Me and You" had been made by practically any other filmmaker, it could have been easily dismissed or ignored but coming from a director of Bernardo Bertolucci's reputation, this has to be regarded as a major disappointment from a major director. Yes, he has made weak movies before but this may be the first that I would not leap up to see if there was a screening of a good quality print--even the otherwise silly "Stealing Beauty" distinguished itself with a tart supporting performance by the then-unknown Rachel Weisz and the astonishing twin beauties of Tuscany and Liv Tyler. The best thing that I can think of to say about this one is that now that he has gotten back into the game after such a long absence, he has shaken off the considerable dust with this film and will, hopefully sooner than later, get back to working on projects worthy of his talents.

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