Film Review: Me and You

Bernardo Bertolucci's most negligible effort to date, in which he takes a familiar—for him—premise and does very little with it.
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Alienated Italian 14-year-old Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antipori) sees his mother off to go on a school ski trip, which she hopes will bring him out of his frightening shell. However, instead of going, he spends the money allotted for the excursion on provisions for a week and secretly hides out in the family basement, with his books, music and an ant farm for company. It's a perfect utopia until his estranged half-sister Olivia (Tea Falco) barges in, trying to overcome her heroin addiction by going cold turkey. They spend the week talking, bickering, talking, aimlessly hanging out and, oh yes, talking.

Sound a little sparse, plot-wise? Well, it is, and unlike director Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers or his chef-d'oeuvre, Last Tango in Paris, which both also involved nubile, complex people isolated in a claustrophobic world of their own making, there is no magically redeeming cinema love or heady sexual fantasy fulfillment to hold your interest. No, Me and You merely features interminable and none-too-interesting jawing between the equally hostile Lorenzo and Olivia, who are decidedly less comely than the protagonists of those two other films. Antipori has one of the worst cases of teenage acne to loom on the large screen in none-too-appetizing close-up, while Falco's disheveled junkie state certainly doesn't present her hawk-like looks in the best light. You are largely made to guess at the source of Antipori's disaffectedness—or is he just an obstinate spoiled brat?—while she, God help us, is one of those arty photographers who betrayed her early "prose" and takes shots of herself nude, holding a banana as a penis. "I am a wall” is her groan-inducing statement of mission. As their theme song, Bertolucci chooses David Bowie's Italian-language "Space Oddity," which lends some momentary piquancy.

I adored Bertolucci's early work, which culminated in his masterpiece The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris, but it's almost as if the sprawling, exhausting and sometimes gorgeous 1976 mess that was 1900 depleted his talent. His subsequent films, even the epic The Last Emperor, have had a certain wanness about them, so at odds with the heady, thrilling use of film language and rich visual sense he displayed initially. Me and You has to be the wannest of the lot—nothing really happens, and although Falco evinces a surly feistiness which provides the film with its only real energy, none of the performances is crucially charismatic enough to keep your interest until its final yawningly anticipated wind-down.

Bertolucci has Olivia making a deal with Lorenzo that she will kick her habit finally if he rejoins the human race. It's the one hopeful moment in the entire movie and gives it a slight but definite lift. However, this is the point at which the director ends the film, despairing dissipation being so much easier to do than rehabilitation. Although that basement setting could have had a raffish appeal, Me and You doesn't even look like anything special, and you also have to wonder: What happened to Bertolucci's once ineffable way with interiors?

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