DVD Before The Revolution
A film from a true cinephile, Before the Revolution is not only about telling a story, but Bernardo Bertolucci’s many references to the great filmmakers of his time. It depicts an interesting story on and off screen, one often called semi-autobiographical, as it tells the tale of a younger man and older woman’s affair, with the leading lady being none other than Bertolucci’s older first wife.
Fabrizio is a young man in a changing world of post-war Italy. He lives the bourgeois life of the upper class and is engaged to an equally classed but boring beauty. Upon the death (and possible suicide) of his best friend, Fabrizio cannot resist his urges to rebel against this superficial, socially constructed life and flees the city with his aunt Gina, a fascinating and stunning woman.
Their incestuous but romantic affair leads them on their own revolution, as young idealist Fabrizio dreams of a new way of life, Marxist politics and freedom to love his enchanting aunt. But Gina knows all too well the capricious ways of young men and that all dreamers must wake…
Everyone knows that most people have a crisis in their forties, but the mid-twenties crisis is something that perhaps just as many of us go through as we find our identities and place in society. This is what Before the Revolution shows in Fabrizio, a young man fighting against conformity and social restrictions as he tries to fit his own ideas on life into this 1960s Italian culture. It is a love story, not only between characters but between a filmmaker and his passion.
Bertolucci is a filmmaker in love with films, who wants to make you love them, too. This film is no exception, and shows off his love of film and appreciation for other filmmakers that he incorporates into all his movies. Godard, Fellini, De Sica, Truffaut and many others are all apparent influences on Before the Revolution. Among its many contextual references to some of the greatest Italian and French films, its stylisation is one that is immediately recognisable – maybe a homage, or perhaps just heavily influenced by the greats of his time. There is one scene in particular where Gina and Fabrizio search for each other in the crowded streets of Parma to a light and cheery tune, very reminiscent of Godard’s Breathless in tone and editing.
The real star of the show is Adriana Asti, the seductive older woman who hides her emotional frailty behind her dominant sexuality. It is a fantastically charged performance, full of authentic love, lust, fear and regret – who knows how much of this stems from her relationship with Bertolucci, but it is captivating all the more for it. It’s almost a shame that Francesco Barilli could not match such a performance. While his acting isn’t at all bad, it lacks that same spark that the lovely Asti brings to the screen, and lets him drift into the background a little too much at times.
The dialogue is one thing that holds it back.
Apart from the unequal balance of acting talent, the dialogue is one thing that holds it back. It’s often over-thought, unnatural and bogged down in reference to pop-culture and politics. Amid some stunning scenery and cinematography, it seems to drown the enjoyment of the film. Not to say film fanatics and particularly New Wave fans won’t enjoy little quips about camera angle rules and cinema verite, among countless references and commentaries on film and art. But, overall, it could do with less of the reflective conversation.
The film most distinctly echoes, or more accurately foretells of The Dreamers – a future film of Bertolucci’s that is set in 1960s France at the dawn of the revolution. It is almost a predecessor to it – where Fabrizio tries to escape/change his reality, the three youths of The Dreamers manage for a time to live as they please, again amid incest and in an almost fantastical world influenced by great movies. In ways, they succeed where Fabrizio cannot, because Fabrizio is forced to wake up and return to the exact same life he knew before, where the Dreamers pull themselves further into the world that they had only talked about before.
Watch Before the Revolution, then watch The Dreamers. For its many great references and for its beautiful New Wave stylisation, Before the Revolution is an enjoyable watch, but more so to the film fans among us that don’t mind wading through heavy dialogue to get to a good story and hearty characters. Where both express Bertolucci’s passion, this film speaks to politics and inevitable bounds of reality, while The Dreamers is perhaps more tailored to the romantics of cinephilia.
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