“Those who didn’t live in the eighteenth century before the [French] Revolution will never be able to know the sweetness of life.” — Talleyrand
At 22 Bernardo Bertolucci made Prima della rivoluzione. Fabrizio, his young protagonist, concludes there’s no escaping his bourgeois past, no matter his Leftist political leanings. The oppressed whom he would help liberate aspire to be members of the middle class! Meanwhile, he has an affair with Aunt Gina, whom as a little boy he enjoyed watching dress. “I always laugh, I always cry,” says this encapsulation of Mother Church. She breaks down after being taunted by a child—I presume a Puckish image of herself—obliviously singing up in a tree. “You are happy,” she says aloud as Fabrizio (whom we glimpse through a window) dances in the street. “But it won’t last . . . you’ll forget me. You’ll hate me.” At Fabrizio’s wedding send-off, Gina (Adriana Asti, terrific) is tearfully showering with kisses a younger nephew.
Inspired by Godard and Resnais’s Marienbad (1961), Bertolucci tries everything: zooms; a moving car camera, attached either to the front or the side; dissolves within a scene—if you will, “soft” jump-cuts; hard jump-cuts; misty lyrical poetry by a lake. This movie is in love with movies and movie-making.
It is also one of the most important films for understanding the sixties. Its lovely incest (seven years before Louis Malle’s Murmur of the Heart) reaches for a synthesis derived from thesis (family, structure, order) and antithesis (the pleasure of doing one’s own thing). In the States we knew on the basis of this reconciliation that revolution would never happen here.
Or, perhaps, anywhere else in the postwar West. A schoolteacher tells Fabrizio, “[Y]ou can argue only with people who have the same ideas.”
Devastating; irreplaceable; phenomenal.
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