Thursday, February 27, 2014

Grandiose Sense of Cinema

Grandiose Sense of Cinema
Me and You

As its closing night movie, Me and You brings a grandiose sense of cinema to the Film Comment Selects series at Lincoln Center.

“He has a grandiose sense of self,” one character explains the anti-social behavior of 14-year-old Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Me and You. Rumours have it that Bertolucci originally considered making a 3D movie of this chamber piece—primarily set during the weeklong basement hideaway of Lorenzo and his estranged older half-sister Olivia (Teo Falco). Movies such as The Spider’s Stratagem (1970), The Conformist (1971), The Sheltering Sky (1990), and Little Buddha (1994) make 3D redundant—and insufficient—to Bertolucci’s unparalleled ability to make depth of field pop like a storybook. 
Bertolucci and cinematographer Fabio Cianchetti achieve tactile emotions without 3D gimmicks. “Normal means normal. So nothing,” Lorenzo describes his (lack of) feeling to a therapist in the opening of Me and You. Immediately afterward, Lorenzo goes spiraling down a vertiginous staircase shot at extreme low-angle punctuated by a signature perspectival shift to follow Lorenzo out the door. Such existential perceptiveness—and delirious expressiveness—matches that of silent films.
Yet Bertolucci fills the soundtrack with pop music. The sequence features the diegetic (ear bud) sound of The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry.” Bertolucci’s lyrical, rhythmic images cry for Lorenzo, who turns inward from the world through the music on his mp3 player. A long lens during the “Boys Don’t Cry” sequence captures Lorenzo oblivious in the foreground while a woman in the background loses control of her leashed dogs.
Lorenzo is not normal. Filled with misdirected feeling, he asks his mother inappropriate (sexual) questions and explodes into tantrums when she treats him like a child. At the center of these passions is a longing, visualized in a low-angle point-of-view shot of Lorenzo’s dream of mother and absent father dancing on a glass rooftop. The sequence reminds of Bertolucci’s Luna (1979) with its movie theatre ceiling that opens up to the moon and stars when its young protagonist, motivated by Oedipal desires for a missing father and self-absorbed mother, loses his virginity during a heroin high.
Anti-social Lorenzo finds interacting with people so difficult that he spends time at the pet shop observing the animals in their aquariums and cages—in a sequence more amazing than anything in Avatar (2009). So a class trip to a ski resort gives his mother hope for his son’s social future. It’s an uncanny memory out of the adolescent collective unconscious made piquant by an image of the enthusiastic mother seen and heard through the slats of light of a two-toned frosted glass door.
Lorenzo takes advantage of the class trip to plan a week of privacy—just him and his iPod, ant farm, and favorite junk food—in the storage room of his parents’ apartment building. Then Olivia shows up. As made riveting by Antinori and Falco, this brother-and-sister pair works through their family’s pain to discover untapped capacity for compassion.
Bertolucci evokes compassion through intense magnification. Indeed, another eye-popping trope includes Lorenzo scrutinizing with a magnifying glass the ant farm—and then his sister as she kicks heroin. “They put me in a box,” Olivia complains when she locates a valuable item in her father and stepmother’s storage.
The effects of the broken family reflect in Lorenzo’s discovery of Olivia’s photography—through which she creates the illusion of her head dislocated or of her body endowed with ambisexual appendages. Then, the story that reveals the reason for Olivia’s estrangement from her father’s new family shocks even Lorenzo. These familial insights fill with primal, dream-like suspense a mesmerizing late-night raid (for food) into the parents’ apartment.
The focused space and timeframe of Me and You ultimately magnifies the essence of love. Olivia’s junky withdrawals bring out the worst in her—physical and emotional frailty. Yet that vulnerability ultimately draws out Lorenzo’s tenderness: “I’m sorry I made you cry.”
Significantly, these two sibling oddities bond over “Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola,” Mogol's translation of David Bowie. Bertolucci reveals—as if for the first time—the deep yearning of “Space Oddity.” Doing so restores pop expression to the communal space. It provides an alternative to Lorenzo’s escapism that makes manifest Internet, high-tech solipsism. After a decade, Bertolucci triumphantly returns to cinema his grandiose sense of the Other.


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