Bernardo Bertolucci asked the question ‘what is cinema?’ and even after 40 years of directing movie’s he admitted that he still couldn’t answer that question. Also at the same interview at the BFI in 2011 he stated that it was impossible for him to make a movie without it being political, I think this is true of all meaningful director’s who take his or her craft seriously.
After assisting Pier Paolo Pasolini on his film Accattone in 1961 Bertolucci began his directorial career in 1962 with his debut feature film La commare secca (A Grim Reaper). His most famous, and probably most controversial, film was Ultimo tango a Parigi or better known as Last Tango in Paris (1972). Its notoriety stems from its then, relatively explicit sex scenes. Considered by some as a masterpiece, it starred Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando.
His second film Prima della rivoluzione (1964) was made when he was only 23 years old. Set in the directors birthplace, Palma on a Sunday in April 1962 just before Easter, the film takes its title from the famous pronouncement of Talleyrand ‘Only these who lived before the revolution know how sweet life can be’ which according to the Italian director seems, in retrospect to be ironic “These who live before the revolution” said Bertolucci “experience not so much the sweetness as the anguish of existence”. At its centre is an erotic love story between an idealistic middle class young man Fabrizio (Francesco Barilli) and the sister of his mother Gina (Adriana Asti) ten years his senior. The bourgeois Fabrizio is on the edge of adulthood, promised in marriage to a pretty local girl, in fact his life is very much mapped out in front of him. Then suddenly his friend Agostino (Allen Midgette) drowns in a tragic swimming accident and makes him question his own life and his Marxist beliefs.
Shot in black and white, its deep very serious dialog heavy conversations are very 60’s European art house cinema and beings to mind La Nouvelle Vague, which Bertolucci admits, was a great influence. The movie is said to be ‘a perfect portrait of a generation who were to embrace revolt in the late 1960’s’ Referring back to the BFI interview Bernardo Bertolucci opines that we could still dream of an incredible future in the sixties, and asks is ‘is there room for that kind of hope today?’