Screened December 28, 2008 on New Yorker VHS in Weehawken NJ
TSPDT #988 IMDb
We have Bernardo Bertolucci’s second feature to thank for serving a vivid analogy to the flaws of communism: like sleeping with your hot aunt, it’s a utopian fantasy that, once achieved, goes downhill in a hurry. This semi-autobiographical account of a doomed love affair between a young bourgeois leftist (Francesco Barilli) dallying and diddling with his disaffected aunt (Bertolucci’s then-wife, the delectable Adriana Asti) is filmed with genuine emotional conviction towards its ideological confusion, trying its damnedest to articulate its ambivalence through a barrage of stylistic conceits openly borrowed from New Wave contemporaries (even Asti is a mash-up of Anna Karina kitten-cute and Vitti-Moreau-nioni neurosis). The jump cuts, poetic monologues and musical interludes are alternately impressive in their omnivorous ambitions and overbearing in their bombast (especially when Ennio Morricone’s music swells to overkill levels). The most memorable stylistic elements are those that would become the touchstones for Bertolucci’s career: a camera that moves like a dancer through time and space, wishing to brush its gaze against everything in sight; and a darkly sensuous knack for depicting forbidden sex as a form of self-knowledge, an inescapable vortex at the heart of existence. Few filmmakers have been able to channel the cinema to evoke their all-consuming libido; the catch is that the leftist sentiments depicted in this film (which, upon its spring ’68 release in Paris, helped incite the May Riots) amount to just another dalliance for this quintessentially bourgeois superconsumer of life experience. It amounts to an international arthouse version of The Graduate [TSPDT #215], as clever as that film in fashionably tweaking middle-class boredom with cougar sex and hip filmmaking to compensate for a muddled, reactionary critique of society. As far as movies depicting scandalous intercourse leading to social revolutions go, Harold and Maude [TSPDT #493] reads like Das Kapital compared to this defeatist tract.
Wanna go deeper?
Last night, Philharmonic Hall presented “Before the Revolution,” an unheralded Italian feature by an unknown writer-director named Bernardo Bertolucci. He is 23 years old, and his film is a beauty.
So is its star, Adriana Asti, a large-eyed brunette making her celluloid debut, appeared onstage with the director to take a modest bow before the screening. Her unfamiliar face meant little to the audience at the time. Before the evening was over, it had become a face that discerning filmgoers are unlikely to forget.
She is the focal point of a poignant love story epitomizing a young man’s growth through the dense, chaotic jungle of contemporary civilization. Like many of the best modern films, the drama is difficult, subtle and extraordinarily complex in its imagery.
It is a moving story on the most immediate level, and the director has given it sweeping connotations. When the boy, unable to cope with the extraordinary young woman, abandons his struggles and lets her drift away, the drama reverberates with evocations of loss. His failure at love symbolizes a death of the past, an angst-ridden sense of futility in any kind of revolutionary striving, whether emotional, political or merely intellectual, amid the defeat of contemporary society.
Viewing life in such romantic terms is the special province of a very young director, but Mr. Bertolucci has approached his story with such deep feeling that its full implications are communicated. This is a young man’s film, but it has large social references.
Cinematically, it is also filled with references, to the best modern directors in Italy and France. Knowledgeable viewers can detect strong influences from Roberto Rossellini and Alain Resnais in Mr. Bertolucci’s sophisticated style.
Astonishingly, he has managed to assimilate a high degree of filmic and literary erudition into a distinctively personal visual approach. Technically, he displays authoritative control. Here is a new talent of outstanding promise.
A boyish nonprofessional, Francesco Barilli, is ideally cast as the groping Fabrizio, but Miss Asti is so stunning as the aunt that her character takes over the film. Amid a cast of inexperienced actors, she displays a stage-trained skill and an impressive presence that mark her for an impressive future on the screen.
“Before the Revolution” will be released in this country by Angelo Rizzoli. It is the revelation of the festival.
- Eugene Archer, The New York Times, September 25, 1964
The contrary attractions of sensuality and politics have been the subject of many of Bertolucci’s films, but the conflict is presented most passionately and personally here, through the figure of a young bourgeois revolutionary (Francesco Barilli) involved in a tortured relationship with his aunt (Adriana Asti). The visual style suggests Minnelli in its lush subjectivity, particularly when the black and white gives way to color for a brief lyrical sequence.
- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader
In all of Bertolucci’s movies, there’s a central conflict between the ‘radical’ impulses and a pessimistic (and/or willing) capitulation to the mainstream of bourgeois society and culture. It’s a contradiction that takes on juggernaut proportions in ’1900′, but it stands as a major source of tension and interest in many of the earlier films. Both Before the Revolution (Bertolucci’s second feature) and Partner try to examine it head-on. Revolution is about a middle-class 20-year-old who ‘discovers’ Marxism and tries – for a while – to change his life; Partner is an exuberant response to the student riots of ’68, with Pierre Clémenti as a timid drama student confronting his own anarchic revolutionary alter ego. The first is mostly ‘classical’ in style, while the second is aggressively ‘new wave’, but both are full of interruptions and digressions: they throw out ideas and allusions (usually to other movies) with reckless enthusiasm, and they remain invaluable aids to an understanding of the ’60s.
- Time Out
In Before the Revolution, Bertolucci first presents the theme which will become foremost in his work: the conflict between freedom and conformity. Fabrizio, the leading character, is obliged to decide between radical political commitment and an alluring marriage into the bourgeoisie. In this reworking of Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma, Bertolucci expressly delineates the connection between politics and sexuality. The film also establishes the Freudian theme of the totemic father, which will recur throughout Bertolucci’s work, here emblematized in the figure of Fabrizio’s communist mentor, whom Fabrizio must renounce as a precondition to his entry into moneyed society.
- Robert Burgoyne, Film Reference.com
A must for Bertolucci afficianados is Before the Revolution, made, in wide-screen black-and-white, when he was an extraordinarily precocious 23. Understandably, it’s autobiographical. The protagonist, Fabrizio (furrow-browed Francisco Barilli), is, like the youthful filmmaker, girl-and-movie crazy, and Marx-and-Freud obsessed, a tie-and-coat high bourgeoisie trying to be a renegade and relate to the historic struggles of the masses…
Though Farbizio orders a suicide-prone friend to a screening of Hawks’s Red River, and though Farbizio takes a quick break to see Godard’s A Woman is a Woman, mostly he is too stressed and distracted by love and political concerns to benefit from film going. So Bertolucci provides him with a hilarious cinephile friend, who spends his whole sentient life at the altar of movies (he sees them twice in a row). Afterward, he smokes and philosophizes about them. “I remember the 360 degree dolly shot of Nicholas Ray, I swear, one of the highest moral facts in the history of cinema,” this friend says, and, “Remember, one can’t live without Rossellini!”
Bertolucci, the film geek, is all over his shooting, as Before the Revolution is a perpetual homage to his cinema masters, old and new. Gina, alienated in fashionable clothes and photographed against architecture, comes from Antonioni, Gina in a telephone monologue from Rossellini, Gina framed formally with bare legs from Godard, Gina making faces in granny glasses from Truffaut. (It’s interesting to see Bertolucci in 1963 quoting A Woman is a Woman and Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, both of 1961, as if they are already canonic texts.)
Bertolucci’s other source: Stendhal’s early 19th century novel, The Charterhouse of Parma. Thank you, Bernardo, for affording me an excuse to spend several long plane rides reading Stendhal’s fabulous 500-page Machiavellian melodrama about the post-Napoleon political maneuverings in the city of Parma. What does it have to do with Before the Revolution? The names of the three main characters are the same–Fabrizio, Gina, and Clelia–and, in each case, Farbizio bypasses the love of his flashy aunt for that of a pious, straightlaced younger girl. And there’s stifling Parma, and there’s a common setting for high drama of the opera.
But the contrasts are far more telling. Gina of the book is the most conniving belle at court, almost as obsessed by power and riches as she is by conquering Fabrizio. Gina of the movie is a little lost rich girl, panicked and neurotic, a walking nervous breakdown with no aspirations except getting men to love her. (At times, she is a drag, and her multi-moods are the most tiresome part of the movie.) Fabrizio of the book is a soldier (he fights at Waterloo), an adventurer, a nobleman, an autocrat, a political opportunist with little worry of conscience. Bertolucci’s Fabrizio is a person of acute self-consciousness, pained by his political ineffectuality (that of the bourgeois class) and agonized that the promised Marxist paradise will never come.
- Gerald Peary, Boston Phoenix
Apart from Pasolini, who cited the movie in a famous essay, “The Cinema of Poetry,” in 1965, the Italians hated “Before the Revolution.” The French adored it. The movie was screened during the Critics’ Week at Cannes in 1964, where it won prizes and was identified by French critics as “an homage to the school of the Cahiers,” which it certainly was. Bertolucci had been a regular reader of the Cahiers almost since he was a child—he was introduced to the magazine by his father, who wrote movie reviews as well as poetry—and he was an acolyte of Godard, whose stylistic fingerprints are all over the movie. Bertolucci became the New Wave’s adopted Italian. He went to Paris and met Godard, Langlois, Agnès Varda. Though no one could see his movie, because it lacked a distributor, it became a critical touchstone at the Cahiers. (The movie also played a role in the so-called Hollywood New Wave; it is an influence on Martin Scorsese’s first major picture, “Mean Streets,” which came out in 1973.) For his part, Bertolucci used to say that he preferred to give interviews in French, on the ground that French is the true language of cinema. [Henri] Langlois himself was responsible for the French release of “Before the Revolution,” which finally happened in 1968. The Cahiers critics all awarded it four stars, their highest rating—“chef d’oeuvre.” By 1968, student radicals were citing it as explanation and inspiration, and the phrase “before the revolution” appeared in accounts of the events of May in the French press.
The words are taken from a remark of Talleyrand’s: “He who did not live in the years before the revolution cannot understand what the sweetness of living is.” Bertolucci insisted that he meant the title ironically, that life “before the revolution” is agony; he has his protagonist mutter, despairingly, “It’s always ‘before the revolution’ if you’re like me.” But with movies you believe the camera—what the camera loves cannot be all bad—and the camera tells us that although Talleyrand was undoubtedly on the wrong side, he was not wrong. “At first my story was a modern ‘Charterhouse,’ ” Bertolucci explained in an interview in the Cahiers in 1965, “but then it gradually developed into ‘Sentimental Education.’ ” Fabrizio is not a revolutionary; he is playing at being a revolutionary, because that is what young people in the postwar middle class do. His kind of revolution is just a chapter in the bourgeois family romance (thus the incest: it violates the norms of the nuclear family). If “Before the Revolution” is a prophecy of the rebellion of May ’68, in which students from the Sorbonne marched in solidarity with workers from the Renault auto plants, it is also a prophecy of its failure.
- Louis Menard, The New Yorker, October 20, 2003
Bertolucci used Before the Revolution to explore the nature of political doubt: Fabrizio abandons one type of patriarchy (his conservative family) for another (the ideological demands of Marxism). As in most of the director’s films, this dichotomy is accompanied by sexual tension: While left-wing politics and haute bourgeois surroundings provide the milieu for Revolution, the main narrative (a very loose adaptation of Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma) concerns Fabrizio’s affair with his aunt Gina (Adriana Asti). But unlike in his later works, Bertolucci doesn’t quite manage to reconcile the film’s sexual politics with its more overt ideological content. Try as we might, it’s hard to read Gina as a symbol for anything – she simultaneously represents sexual freedom and Fabrizio’s stuffy family relations; it’s hard to divorce her from the rest of the world, even though she is clearly an outcast in her own surroundings. (It’s also possible to read the incest taboo as a sublimation of homoerotic desire; several early scenes are devoted to Fabrizio’s clearly gay, suicidal young friend Agostino [Allen Midgette], whose death is one of the centerpieces of the film.) Ultimately, what emerges from Before the Revolution is not a coherent vision but a brilliant, highly kinetic portrait of a very confused young man – made, perhaps, by a brilliant and very confused young man. Bertolucci even throws in a beautifully filmed, lushly scored ode to the environment, in which a minor character delivers a lyrical monologue to the decaying Po River, right near the end – a gorgeous sequence that almost feels like it deserves to be its own short work.
- Bilge Ebiri, Senses of Cinema
Bertolucci’s film is gorgeously written and acted – it’s Asti’s film all the way though – and it paves the way for The Conformist, a film whose protagonist is on the opposite side of the ideological fence from Fabrizio. If there’s any complaint, it’s with some of the montages that look a bit too much like Godard lite (complete with jump cuts), but that is a small complaint. Most of the film has a visual elegance that prefigures Bertloucci’s better known works such as The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris. (This film’s beautiful black and white photography is by Aldo Scavarda, who shot Antonioni’s great L’Avventura.) Some of the film’s later scenes, where we see Fabrzio and his fiancée meet Gina at a performance of Verdi’s Macbeth are almost elegiac in their melancholy beauty. Rough going for some viewers, no doubt, but particularly rewarding of second and third viewings, Before the Revolution is a brilliant social document and masterful filmmaking.
- Nick Burton, Pif Magazine
Inspired by Godard and Resnais’s Marienbad (1961), Bertolucci tries everything: zooms; a moving car camera, attached either to the front or the side; dissolves within a scene—if you will, “soft” jump-cuts; hard jump-cuts; misty lyrical poetry by a lake. This movie is in love with movies and movie-making.
It is also one of the most important films for understanding the sixties. Its lovely incest (seven years before Louis Malle’s Murmur of the Heart) reaches for a synthesis derived from thesis (family, structure, order) and antithesis (the pleasure of doing one’s own thing). In the States we knew on the basis of this reconciliation that revolution would never happen here.
Or, perhaps, anywhere else in the postwar West. A schoolteacher tells Fabrizio, “[Y]ou can argue only with people who have the same ideas.”
Devastating; irreplaceable; phenomenal.
Michael Guillen re-organizes a number of the above citations in his own essay on the film for Twitch
Attilio Bertolucci called his son’s films from the 1960s “autobiographical in a symbolic sense.” “We are all Catholics,” he said, “Bernardo was baptized and all that. There is a contradiction in Bernardo. I think that at the same time he hates and loves his background, his life, his class. Therefore the heroes of his autobiographical films always try to break loose but fail in the end.” Bertolucci himself contended: “More than just being autobiographical, it was a way to exorcise my own fears. Because to be like that character is almost a destiny for all bourgeois young Europeans.” When asked about the origins of his Marxist sympathies, Bertolucci said: “I was always like that. Marxism in Italy is very common.”
While the more immediate Grim Reaper has retained most of its original freshness, the impact of Before the Revolution has gradually weakened with the passage of time because so many of its stylistic elements are characteristic of the 1960s search for a new language. This reflective first-person film testimony is, in a way, an anthology of the efforts by 1960s filmmakers to renovate film narrative by, among other things, basing it on present-tense stream of consciousness. Bertolucci’s restless camera uses many components cherished by various New Waves, which, in retrospect, appear outdated: high-angle shots culminating in frozen compositions, repetitions of the same shot from a slightly different perspective, freeze frames, unexpected and unmotivated changing of distance between camera and object, subjective tracking shots and pans, etc. Bertolucci’s style is based on insistent, extremely seductive takes reminiscent of the language of Romantic poetry with its highly personal sets of signs.
In its time, Before the Revolution was hailed as a major achievement of the New Italian Cinema, equaled only by Fists in the Pocket. The film amassed many awards and strengthened Bertolucci’s image as a prodigy. But its box-office results were rather poor, and the producers labeled Bertolucci “noncommercial.” He had to wait another four years before he could embark on his next feature film, Partner (1968), which reconfirmed both his exceptional talent and his avowed eclecticism.
- Mira Liehm, Passion and Defiance: Film in Italy from 1942 to the Present. Published by University of California Press, 1986. Pages 194-195
If there is a single subject in the film, it is the existence and future of the individual within an ephemeral moment, and the future of that moment itself within a larger historical process. Bertolucci uses the conventional set-up – romance and revolution – but disguises it in a strikingly novel manner. It seems unfortunate that over the years, the critical dialogue on Before the Revolution seems to have overlooked (or at least undermined) the love story in the film. I assume that this is because it is a puzzling romance, doomed from the beginning and consistently fraught with doubt and disorder. But watching Gina and Fabrizio is like looking upon parallel rail-tracks from the window of a moving train – they come together, collide, move apart, and all at a speed that makes the spectacle hypnotic and their inevitable separation so abrupt. From the familial warmth of their first encounter, to the innocent gaiety as they shop in the streets of Parma and the painful solemnity of their separation at the opera house, their relationship morphs unpredictably from one state to another. Their utterances stretch from the intimate (“I exist because you exist”) to the banal (the endless talk of rain). Their first love-scene is as erotic as anything Bertolucci has subsequently fashioned, reaching a height of sensuality even as Fabrizio and Gina lie on separate beds. It is difficult to imagine the realisation of such a moment in the cinema of today, with the common perversity attached to acts of self-gratification. Sensibly, the film is also not completely devoid of a romantic idyll. In what could be considered the centrepiece of the film – a single 3-minute long take – Bertolucci’s camera circles Fabrizio’s living-room to almost magically transform a dull bourgeois conversation about eating, into a picture of the lovers dancing to an evocative song on the radio. The father exits, the grandmother is asleep, and we are left alone with a frame that closes in to reveal the geographies of mouths and necklines.
The most remarkable aspect in the presentation of this love affair however, is that the incestuous underpinnings that appear to be the most obvious reason for its termination are not necessarily suggested as being entirely responsible for its failure. Gina and Fabrizio are depicted as fundamentally different individuals. She idealises the present and would like nothing to move; “everything still like a picture with us in the middle, motionless”. She also questions the significance of time and the idea that the world has order that can be manipulated. For Fabrizio, time is everything – the key to historical progress and structure. His relationship with the present is more nostalgic because with every passing moment his future becomes his past. The relationship seems hopelessly self-destructive and both characters riddle themselves with guilt. Gina is prone to bouts of madness and cries out that every war, storm and fire is her fault. Fabrizio’s ideological preoccupations leave him cold, and he later admits that he wanted to fill Gina with vitality but gave her anguish instead. Finally, the lovers are never ready to confront the possibility that their affair is more than just a satisfaction of curiosities or a remedy for boredom. To use Gina’s allegory, “clouds pursue clouds”. She pursues him pursuing her.
The centrality of Fabrizio’s political “disarmament” in Before the Revolution has elicited several responses to Bertolucci’s intent in this film. Was he exploring the nature of his own political doubt? This seems likely in view of the proximity between Bertolucci and his protagonist, and he has claimed that the film served as an exorcism of his Marxist fears of being sucked back into the “milieu”. Some even suggest that the film prophesises the failure of the May ’68 uprising. In essence, not unlike the love story that runs parallel to it, the political narrative of Bertolucci’s film highlights the vagaries in following a nebulous idea. Fabrizio presents himself as a staunch Marxist; he sees activism as ennobling and a source for meaning (like poetry). But he is merely a pretender to the cause. He brandishes a bookish rhetoric but this is only to sound convincing. Towards the end he chokes while chanting a Marxist slogan. This is the realisation that he will never be the “new kind of man” that he believes in – one that is “wise enough to educate his parents”. So there is some irony in Bertolucci’s appropriation of Talleyrand’s remark. For Fabrizio there is little “sweetness” in this time “before the revolution”; it is filled instead with agony and despair.
Is it surprising then that people criticise the film for being intangible? Bertolucci claims that at the time he sought out a cinema that did not engage the audience on an obvious sensual level. Like the directors of the nouvelle vague, he was keen to challenge the fascist model of the passive spectator exercised by popular cinema. This involved a deliberate distanciation of the audience through an unconventional employment of narrative and style. But there was always the fear of being ignored, of completely alienating the spectator to the point where the art became incomprehensible. Fortunately, in Before the Revolution, the amorphous structure of the film becomes inextricably linked to the ambiguities of the subject. A shapeless figure (the spectator) pursues a shapeless form with shapeless substance. 40 years after its release, Bertolucci’s film continues to demand that we suspend our traditional habits of viewing. It remains inconsumable in the conventional sense but it is hardly incoherent.
- Neel Chaudhuri, Senses of Cinema
Bertolucci’s artistic ‘piece de resistance’, Before The Revolution, is an intangible and anti-narrative experiment in film cohesion. The film progresses seamlessly towards an enigmatic conclusion, while charging indoctrination with corruption and utilizing propaganda as style. Bertolucci responds to dogma by replacing media with medium. Textually the signified here becomes the signified. Characters in the film are meaningless, and vacant icons; they become the images (the shadows on the wall) that they ‘act’ upon. However, this style and deconstructionist meta-theatricality make the film unabsorbable. Where Pasolini’s intention of creating an un-consumable film worked in Salo, Bertolucci’s Before The Revolution spreads itself too far and too thinly. The plot revolves around Fabrizio (Francesco Barilli), a melancholy man in a disintegrating world, who, after the death of his friend Agostino (Allen Midgette), falls in love with the esoteric Gina (Adriana Asti), his aunt. Love blossoms between the two, then fails in a final act of desperation. The film covers many themes, from alienation to sex, from cinematic history to understanding. Collage-like in structure, the film begins with a premise of monumental grandeur, shot in striking B&W and magnificently filmed by Aldo Scavarda (who filmed the earlier L’avventura of Michelangelo Antonioni), the film exudes an artistic quality that attempts poetic lyricism. Via repetitious zooms, and varying editing, the viewer is dislocated from the ‘light-show’ and is deadened by the phlegmatic momentum. (A momentum that is so overbearing the film almost becomes parodic.) As Fabrizio meanders through city-scapes, falling in and out of love with Gina and endlessly searching for an existential meaning, his encounters with political forces are too conspicuous and diverting. The viewer simply cannot care for both Fabrizio’s search and the heavy-handing statements about ‘thought-control’. While we, the consumers, become so easily pleased with the sugar-coated beauty of the film, its caustic message is lost.
Obsessive still shots are also characteristic of Bertolucci’s film, Before the Revolution. However, they have a different meaning than for Antonioni. However, they have a different meaning than for Antonioni. The world-fragment, imprisoned in the frame and transformed by it into a fragment of autonomous beauty which refers only to itself, does not interest Bertolucci as it interests, in return, Antonioni. Bertolucci’s formalism is infinitely less pictorial: his frame does not intervene metaphorically upon reality, sectioning it into so many mysteriously autonomous places, like pictures. Bertolucci’s frame adheres to reality, according to the canon of a certain realist manner (according to a technique of poetic language, followed by the classics from Charlie Chaplin to Bergman): the stillness of a shot upon a portion of reality (the river, Parma, the streets of Parma, etc.) reveals the grace of a profound and confused love precisely for that portion of reality.
Practically, the whole stylistic of Before the Revolution is a long “free indirect subjective” based on the dominant state of mind of the protagonist, the neurotic young aunt. Whereas there was, in Antonioni, a whole substitution of the sick woman’s vision for that (of febrile formalism) of the author, in Bertolucci such a substitution does not take place. What there has been is a contamination between the vision the neurotic woman has of the world and that of the author, which are inevitably analogous, but difficult to perceive, being closely intermixed, having the same style.
The intense moments of expression in the film are, precisely, those “insistences” of the framing and the montage-rhythms, whose structural realism (derived from Rossellinian neo-realism and the mythic realism of some younger master) is charged, throughout the uncommon duration of a shot or a montage-rhythm, till it explodes in a sort of technical scandal. Such an insistence on details, particularly on certain details in the digressions, is a deviation in relation to the system of the film: it is the temptation to make another film. It is, in sum, the presence of the author, who, in a measureless liberty, goes beyond the film and threatens continually to abandon it for the sake of an unforeseen inspiration which is that – latent – of the author’s love for the poetic world of his own life-experiences. A moment of a naked and raw subjectivity, entirely natural, in a film in which – as in Antonioni’s – subjectivity is mystified by a method of false objectivism, the result of a pretextual “free indirect subjective.”
Beneath the style generated by the disoriented, disorganized, beset-by-details state of mind of the protagonist, is the level of the world as seen by an author no less neurotic, dominated by an elegiac, elegant, but never “classicist” spirit.
- Pier Paolo Pasolini, “The Cinema of Poetry.” Published in Movies and Methods: An Anthology. Edited by Bill Nichols. Published by University of California Press, 1976. Pages 553-554
Fabrizio epitomizes the contradiction between the power of the bourgeois past and the felt need for the revolution to be carried out by the Communist party. Fabrizio’s conflicts with the other characters, each representing another segment of Italian society, turn the film into an analytic metamovie. The major conflict between Cesare (representing the political aspect) and Gina (representing the sexual apolitical aspect) is resolved only in Bertolucci’s following films which synthesize Freud with Marx. Before the Revolution is a film “before the analysis” (the beginning of Bertolucci’s analysis was in 1969) in which both the political and the sexual are betrayed by the young, immature protagonist. And, indeed, the film not only identifies with Fabrizio but also criticizes him on every level. Fabrizio is criticized by both Gina and Cesare. Gina criticizes Fabrizio for capitulating to bourgeois morality while Cesare criticizes him for being incapable of acting correctly on either the personal or political level. Gina in Before the Revolution (giving voice to the reactionary position from a leftist point of view) argues with Cesare that people cannot change. To support her argument she quotes Oscar Wilde’s dictum, “You can’t change even one person.” In The Last Emperor, however, (which coincides with the end of Bertolucci’s first analysis) Bertolucci based his thesis on the belief that man can change. If we take Bertolucci as representing the authorial position of Before the Revolution, then we can take Fabrizio’s capitulation to bourgeois filmmaking. Although the film, through its shifting narrative and character focalization, privileges Gina’s and Cesare’s positions, Bertolucci’s career has followed Fabrizio’s path.
- Yosefa Loshitzky. The Radical Faces of Godard and Bertolucci. Published by Wayne State University Press, 1995. Page 198.
About the RHV Region 2 DVD
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV’s Before the Revolution has undergone substantial restoration and the results are stunning! With an exceptional degree of detail, spectacular contrast, a flawless progressive transfer, no print damage, and an image that sparkles with its beautiful black and white gradation this DVD presentation by RHV is without a doubt a collector’s dream. I can hardly think what else the Italian distribs could have improved on this presentation as just about every aspect that is typically scrutinized by film buffs has been treated with enormous care. Quite frankly this is as good as this film has ever looked. Region 2, PAL.
There have been some heavy speculations that Criterion might release Before the Revolution as part of their collection and I most certainly hope that this is not just a rumor started by those who like to play with possibilities. With this said however unless such release materializes with a lengthy commentary by the director of the film sharing his thoughts and memories I believe that English-speakers need not wait for a better release. Why? I can hardly see how this all-English friendly DVD could be topped by anything the R1 distribs may or may not release. Indeed, ALL of the extras on this double DVD set have been subbed in English:
On disc one you would fine the theatrical trailer for the film as well as a nicely done gallery of stills. There is also the short “Cinema D’Oggi” extract where Bernardo Bertolucci comments on the film while selected footage is being shown. Next, there is the “Effetti Personali” segment where selected dialogs and lines are being recited by the cast (approx. twenty years later) throughout locations from Before the Revolution with the original footage from the film being inserted as well.
On disc two you will find the remaining extras from this spectacular release. First there is a short segment titled “Traveling Companions” where Enzo Siciliano, and Adriano Apra are being interviewed. Much of what is being said is recollections pertaining to film’s history so there is plenty that fans of Bertolucci will find intriguing. Next, there is a massive interview with Bernardo Bertolucci where he goes into great detail talking about his film and practically touching upon just about all that one might be curious about (I consider this to be the strongest extra from the DVD as I am most certain if a R1 release actually happens it is likely that RHV will not license it). “Gina and Fabrizio” is the next interview provided for this release where Adriana Asti and Francesco Barilli share their thoughts on the roles they were given in Before the Revolution. Unlike the previous interview with Bernardo Bertolucci however I was not as impressed as I thought I would be. “The Workshop of the Young Masters” provides another set of interviews with Ennio Morricone, Roberto Perpignani, and Vittorio Storaro where they discuss their involvement with the film. Morricone’s comments were particularly interesting given his enormous reputation between Italian film directors. Next, we have “Re-Readings” with Francesco Casetti, Lucilla Albano, and Giovanna Grignaffini where everyone once again shares their thoughts and recollections on Before the Revolution while highlighting their involvement with the film. Next, there is the “After the Revolution” segment where directors Marco Tullio Giordana (The Best of Youth) and Marco Bellocchio talk about the impact Bernardo Bertolucci and his film had on Italian cinema. Last but not least we have a special documentary that follows the restoration process of this film while highlighting the success which the producers were able to achieve spending thousands and thousands of hours working for the best possible quality.
Quite frankly this is the most spectacular R2 presentation of an Italian film I have ever seen!! RHV truly have delivered a package that is without a doubt the definitive version of Before the Revolution (both in terms of technical presentation and in terms of supplemental material). I would go on record here and reconfirm my opinion that a Criterion release will NOT surpass the wealth of extras as well as the stunning audio/video restoration work the Italian distribs have provided. Unless somehow Criterion manage to convince Bertolucci to record a commentary for this film (and I wonder what else he could contribute as practically ALL he has to say could be found in his interviews provided for this double Italian set) there is no reason for you to wait!! This is one of the all-time BEST R2 English-friendly releases I have seen, all cinema considered: DVDTALK Collector’s Series.
- Svet Atanasov, DVD Talk
Rarely does a DVD come along that deserves the title definitive version and in the case of RHV’s Before the Revolution DVD they have put together an impressive release that truly deserves the title of definitive edition, highly recommended.
- Michael Den Boer, 10,000 Bullets
About Bernardo Bertolucci
Biography at Film Reference.com
Quotes found on the TSPDT profile page for Bertolucci:
“At the age of twenty-one, Bernardo Bertolucci established himself as a major artist in two distinct art forms, winning a prestigious award in poetry and receiving high critical acclaim for his initial film, La commare secca. This combination of talents is evident in all of his films, which have a lyric but exceptionally concrete style.” - Robert Burgoyne (The St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia, 1998)
“One of the cinema’s greatest masters of visual beauty, especially when assisted by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Bertolucci’s films are also dramatically naive and pretentious far too often, even addled at times, resulting in risible scenes even when respected actors are used. But at least the nine Oscars won by The Last Emperor, one of his three near-masterpieces, have assured that Bertolucci will not simply go down in history as the man who made Last Tango in Paris.” – David Quinlan (Quinlan’s Film Directors, 1999)
“One of the most accomplished directors of the contemporary Italian cinema…Bertolucci, who believes that “cinema is the true poetic language”, had applied his celluloid poesy mostly to political-human themes, but with Last Tango in Paris (1972) he moved into the realm of the purely human. It established Bertolucci as a commercially viable director as well as a highly gifted one.” – (The MacMillan International Film Encyclopedia, 1994)
“The psychological and intellectual man in society has been brilliantly explored by Bertolucci.” – William R. Meyer (The Film Buff’s Catalog, 1978)
“I’m no longer interested in making political films. There’s something old-fashioned about them. Young people now don’t care for politics. It isn’t present in life as it used to be. And increasingly I like films which reflect present-day reality.” – Bernardo Bertolucci (1999)
Biographical Entry from Ephraim Katz‘ The Film Encyclopedia
Interview with Bertolucci by Nathan Rabin, The Onion A/V Club, 2004
An even better interview by David Thompson at the BFI National Film Theater, 2003
Very few international directors in the past four decades have managed to remain at the “critically successful” as consistently as Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci, whose career has straddled three generations of filmmaking, four continents, and several movie industries. Alongside his provocative explorations of sexuality and ideology, his highly kinetic visual style – often characterised by elaborate camera moves, meticulous lighting, symbolic use of colour, and inventive editing – has influenced several generations of filmmakers, from the American “movie brats” of the 1970s to the music video auteurs of the ’80s and ’90s. Perhaps the most important reason for Bertolucci’s continuing relevance has been the intensely personal nature of his movies: although he makes narrative features, very often based (albeit loosely) on outside literary sources, Bertolucci’s films over the decades reveal distinct connections to their creator’s private dilemmas and the vagaries of his creative and intellectual life. In other words, he has been able to fulfill his dream of being able “to live films” and “to think cinematographically” – to lay bare his inner life through his work.
- Bilge Ebiri, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography
Bertolucci’s films exude a stylishness and filmic beauty that has rarely been captured by the artifice of cinema, yet the substance of Bertolucci’s films, and indeed his primary point, remains quite confused and vague. While Bertolucci openly criticises and ‘mocks’ the conventions of Western cinema, his films tend to resemble collages or aglomerations of well-designed set-pieces that do not coalesce into a unified form. Perhaps, this was Bertolucci’s intent, to create a cinema that defies categorization and elucidation. The interrogations in The Grim Reaper resonate with self-reflective examinations of film; as Bertolucci queries the form and substance of cinema. However, Bertolucci’s interrogations manifest themselves in extremely varied and uncomfortable constructions, as he cannot seem to fully devote himself to an interpretation.
This lack of coherence and the inconsistency reaches its height in Before the Revolution, which, although being quite breathtakingly beautiful, is absurdly self- engrossed. Bertolucci’s later Spider’s Stratagem and The Conformist engage in a self-reflexive hyper-realism that borders on visual genius. Bertolucci’s critique of the spectator and fascism gives breathtaking insight into the apparatus of ‘propaganda’ and the emotional usurping of the individual within the web of ‘cinema.’ Bertolucci challenges the ‘authority’ of film by holding images and viewers hostage (willingly, of course) with a political and ideological blitzkrieg.
BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI is a true child of the cinema. His father, a poet and teacher of art history in Parma and Rome, was also a film critic, and little Bernardo tagged along with him to two or three films a day. Bertolucci made his first film—a ten-minute short—when he was 15, his first feature when he was 20. By that time, he had also published a prizewinning book of poetry, In Search of Mystery, and worked as an assistant to Pier Paolo Pasolini on Accattone! “He was just as virgin to the cinema as I was,” Bertolucci recalls. “So I didn’t watch a director at work. I watched a director being born.”
Bertolucci was born as a director with his second feature, Before the Revolution, which brought him, at 23, the sort of critical tributes once lavished on the youthful Orson Welles. The film’s title recalls Marx, but it is actually taken from Talleyrand: “He who did not live in the years before the revolution cannot understand what the sweetness of living is.” The film is about a young man’s struggle to reconcile radical politics with an almost lavish romanticism, to fuse Marx and Talleyrand in his lofty, poetic soul. Revolution has the intimate feeling of a personal memoir, of experience hardly assimilated and still freshly felt.
Revolution also set the pattern of Bertolucci’s lush, visual style, a kind of free-flowing flamboyance that seems to be a celebration of the act of filmmaking. There were references to movies, countless movies, everything from early Godard to Red River. Bertolucci continues this tradition of paying homage to his mentors: In The Spider’s Stratagem, made in 1969, the camera lingers briefly over a poster for Robert Aldrich’s Wagnerian western The Last Sunset; in Tango there is a scene aboard a barge, between Maria Schneider and Jean-Pierre Leaud, that is meant to evoke Jean Vigo’s classic L’Atalante.
- Time Magazine, January 22, 1973
Bertolucci made his first film after years of apprenticeship with some of the greatest personalities of the Italian artistic scene. Introduced by his father, Attilio, the famous Italian poet and literary critic, Bertolucci started attending regular discussion meetings of an artistic group that included Alberto Moravia, Elsa Morante, Giorgio Bassani, the brothers Sergio and Franco Citti, and P.P. Pasolini, the host. Two women, both aspiring actresses, belonged as regular guests at Pasolini’s house: Laura Betti and Adriana Asti. But soon there was a rift, caused by Bertolucci, at the time an extremely attractive young man. Betti wanted to influence his life and career, but he preferred the less explosive Asti, choosing her for the leading female role of his second film Prima della rivoluzione (Before the Revolution, 1964) and eventually marrying her. Betti, who became one of Italy’s best actresses, did not speak to them for years. The encounters at Pasolini’s place went on (after 1963 in his modern duplex at Via Eufrate), but Bertolucci and Asti were rarely among the guests. In retrospect, it seems that it was not Asti who caused the split. Rather, Bertolucci wanted to free himself from the influence of Pasolini, whom he first met at the age of fifteen.
Yet it took many years for Bertolucci to liberate himself from his “spiritual father.” In 1975, he contended: “Pier Paolo Pasolini has always been a father figure to me. When he spoke badly about Last Tango in Paris, I felt a kind of liberation. The more he insisted on the film’s poor qualities, the more he was destroying his image of the father figure.”
- Mira Liehm, Passion and Defiance: Film in Italy from 1942 to the Present. Published by University of California Press, 1986. Page 191