3 January 2006 | Quinoa1984
an imperfect but vital film of poetic ideals in love and politics
On occasion while watching Bernardo Bertoulcci's Before the Revolution, which I have done about four times within the past year, I really felt like I was watching someone with a full love of cinema. Not just of how it can distort our perceptions of reality by how close or far or following the subjects are, but that there's a certain purity to it. When a filmmaker has this much bursting out of him at 22, 23 years old, you're bound to find it coming out much like someone that age- still on the brink of life, full of ideas, and still treated in a couple of minor, even unintentional ways, as a kid.
Bertolucci tapped into the vein of the changing of the guard in European cinema with vitality. Like in poetry, the moods and music in the language (or, here, the grammar of film itself) tends to move along with the expressions used to make it so personal you know no one else could have done it this way. Even when it might stumble the film almost seems to pick itself back up, plunging us right into the gut of its subject matter. At times only Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci's masterpiece, came close with its honesty of what's going on in the world for these people.
And, in truth, the film's structure would not work without some level of honesty to the viewer, or at the least saying with the random, seemingly sometimes mundane set of events 'it's got to be this way, at least for this character.' How much of it is based from Bertolucci's life I'm not certain. But his lead character, Fabrizio (Francesco Barilli, in a splendidly conflicted performance), is not necessarily a great young future leader of men or something. He's a bourgeois -the word is used quite a number of times in the film- and filled with ideals about a Marxist-style revolution, perhaps.
For the most part though he wanders, thinks in quotes, and is close to his Aunt Gina (Adriana Asti, perfect for the part). It is dealing with this relationship that the filmmaker has to find his stride most, and he does. It goes from quiet, to cute, to talkative, to confused, then to something more risqué- passionate. When the character's cross the line, one may want to suddenly find some of what proceeds as taboo. It's not the case.
What turns Before the Revolution into something not as troubling as the subject matter might appear, Bertolucci utilizes a style that corresponds with the scatter-shot frame of mind in the character's story. The plot is 'linear', but there are times where the sort of Italian frame of romanticism comes into play as well. Because the poetry of the emotions helps make this not as potentially pretentious as some of these scenes could come across, it is not without notice that upon once or twice times the subject matter goes into confusing points.
The scenes late in the film involving Puck, for example, become so into the realm of the literary that it goes beyond interesting and into the dangerous realm of the self-indulgent (which is understandable given the filmmaker's talents). Though Italian to the bone, here and there I almost wondered if at times Truffaut and Godard, switching off like hitters in a batting cage, were in the back of Bertolucci's mind as he wrote the script or filmed a scene.
It doesn't hurt at all, of course, that two great musicians contribute to the film. One is Ennio Morricone, who co-wrote the music and performed for the film, and though not mentioned on IMDb, the great Gato Barbieri is also credited in the music. It's not just them but also the whole backbone of the music in the film. It adds that kick that is in many an Italian romance/drama, and also touches of ironic humor, of the joyfulness of youth (i.e. riding the bike early on), and songs used for effectiveness ahead of its time.
By also entrusting much of his own vision into the hands and eyes of Aldo Scavarda, Bertolucci gets cinematography that makes it apparent how with many of his films his style is apparent in every one. That it starts off so rough, yet with delicacy, and combining it with a lot to contemplate in terms of what love is, what politics mean for the well off and the not-so well off, and an uneasy feeling of hopelessness. It's one of the more breathtaking visions to come from a director younger than 25 in the post-Italian new-wave.
It's not too much of a wonder then Scorsese lists this as his primary influence to make Who's That Knocking at my Door. 9.5/10