His first film in nine years, director Bernardo Bertolucci’s latest film, “Me and You” (Io e Te), is an intimate and modest drama about an introverted fourteen year old boy, Lorenzo, who decides to skip a school skiing trip he is meant to be attending with his schoolmates to hide in the basement of the apartment building he calls home, in an attempt to just be alone and away from the world. Unexpectedly his half-sister, Olivia, shows up and ends up sharing the space with her brother as she prepares to go cold turkey on her heroin addiction with the goal of cleaning up her life and to reconnect with a past relationship. Although the two share a father, Lorenzo and Olivia barely know each other, let alone have any sort of relationship however during the seven days they share together, they come to understand and even love one another while also helping the other readjust themselves in preparation of re-entering the world with purpose.
While he was always interested in the human interactions and emotions within the stories he presented, during director Bernardo Bertolucci’s glory days these things were often explored in epic scope with films like “1900”, “The Last Emperor” and even “Last Tango In Paris”. In the latter part of his career however, while the scope of Bertolucci’s films may have shrunk, his focus on character has always remained the same. “Me and You” is practically a two-hander for the majority of the film, and is also set in a single location and yet the film is so engaging. This is mainly due to two reasons; the first is that Bertolucci and his actors have created characters that are interestingly and honestly drawn which makes them imminently watchable even when they are doing quite unreasonable things. Make no mistake about it, both Lorenzo and Olivia are deeply flawed characters (Olivia is very almost unlikeable) but because they always feel real and true to themselves and the story, we the audience find ourselves caring about their ordeals, no matter how minor they may be. The other thing that makes “Me and You” so watchable is the professionalism behind the filmmaking itself. This should not come as a shock from any film directed by Bertolucci but you would be excused in thinking that “Me and You” had the possibility of being a very boring film from the limits of location and characters, but you would be very wrong. I was stunned at just how cinematic the film was and the expert way Bertolucci told this small story.
I will admit that just from the trailers for this film, I was sure that I was not going to like Jacopo Olmo Antinori’s performance as Lorenzo but I was totally wrong; he is simply magnificent in the role. As I have already mentioned, he is very engaging and I was totally with everything he did in the role. He was able to portray a man who was obviously very disturbed from something in his past that has resulted in him shutting himself off from the rest of the world, and yet he is someone who has never lost his humanity even though he appears to distance himself from it. I loved the way he was so meticulous in details from preparing himself for his seven day stay in the basement (buying seven of everything and then lining them up perfectly) to the way he observes the colony of ants and the way they interact. Another thing that I loved was the way he never judges his sister for the life she lives and the mistakes she has made. He accepts her for who she is and is there for her when she finally asks for help. Personally, I think Tea Falco has the harder role in Olivia because her character is so unlikable for the majority of the film and yet she needs to perform in a way that is both honest and to be able to give the audience an access point to understand her, which I think she is successful in doing. She also has a couple of heartbreaking scenes during the middle of her ordeal of trying to get clean where she is in incomparable pain that just feels so raw and real. Having no contact with drugs or its affects, I can honestly say that I do not know if this portrays the reality of the situation, but it certainly felt like it came from a real place which is quite terrifying. Luckily, both actors also have fantastic chemistry together and really bounce of each other brilliantly. There is a stunning scene late in the film when the two siblings share a dance that is just beautiful and full of emotion.
Visually, the film is stunning to look at. Again from the trailer for the film, I didn’t realize just how beautiful a film this was going to be, but right from the opening shot I was thoroughly impressed. The scenes before Lorenzo goes down into the basement are simply beautiful and Fabio Cianchetti’s cinematography and camerawork is in a class of its own. Just the way the camera glides through the space of the locations is just so classy and very old-school; I just fell in love with the visual style right away. Once the kids enter the cramped confines of the basement you could assume that the elegant camera moves may disappear, but while they are no doubt less flamboyant then those presented earlier in the film, they are no less impressive. A lesser director would have shot this film in a very flat style from similar angles at all times, no doubt restricted by the space of the location, but Bertolucci always finds a way to make each shot special and exciting to look at. It became very obvious to me early on, that even at the age of seventy-three, Bertolucci has lost none of his immense talent (unlike his contemporary Dario Argento).
“Me and You” is a modest film and as such the story has very minor emotional beats and very limited drama within, but once again, due to the importance Bertolucci shows towards the honesty of a scene, you actually feel every beat with the characters themselves. When the film reaches its conclusion, there hasn’t been a massive shift in the characters but you get the feeling at least one of them is going to be alright and move ahead in their life while the other, sadly, may be doomed to repeat their past mistakes. Whatever the case, the week the two shared together will always stay with them and be a positive memory in their lives.
Overall, “Me and You” is very minor Bertolucci, but has been impeccably put together that it is always engaging and worthwhile. The film is anchored by two stellar performances from Jacopo Olmo Antinori and Tea Falco as Lorenzo and Olivia respectively, and the cinematography from Fabio Cianchetti is always amazing. The way Bertolucci also uses music (Lorenzo is a big fan of music) is also quite brilliant and an insight into Lorenzo’s psyche. Unfortunately, “Me and You” received a very limited release here in Australia, so if you missed the recent screenings of the film at Melbourne’s ACMI cinemas, you may have to wait until the film is released on home video, but personally I believe it is well worth it.