Tuesday, 18 June 2013

1,001 Films: "Before the Revolution/Prima Della Rivoluzione" (1964)

Bernardo Bertolucci's second film Before the Revolution, which won the Prix de la Jeunesse at Cannes, is a youthquake drama of sorts that, in its bicycles, jumpcuts and other stylistic tics, clearly owed a debt to the French New Wave - though it's clad in a thick student overcoat of furrowed-brow seriousness that Godard and co. only aspired to at this point. Working with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who gives the film some lovely, misty widescreen compositions, Bertolucci searches out in bourgeois Parma the equivalent of those outskirts and fringe zones Pasolini had marked out as his own around Rome, then sends on a pair of young, ennui-laden lovers to skirt and flirt around them, interrogate their (very old-seeming) elders, and muse, in that upper-case Art Film way, about the possibility of change in the face of death.

Though very much of its time and place, there's nevertheless something in the film's attempt to understand at least a part of the world through cinema, as Bertolucci's French contemporaries were doing: the claim of one supporting character (a carry-over from the director's earlier career as a critic) that "in twenty years' time, Anna Karina will be as important to us as Louise Brooks is now" would eventually be proved right. It is, as that same character insists all movies should be, very much engagé, and you can see the filmmaker Bertolucci was to grow into forming before your very eyes, drawn as the film is to architecture, politics, beautiful women (you sense the camera both falling into, and falling in love with, Adriana Asti's dark eyes), and music of both the pop and classical variety, as well as characters whose destiny is the most lamentable form of compromise.

Before the Revolution is available on DVD through the BFI.

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