Film Review: Before the Revolution

Bernardo Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution exhibits a demeanour that points to the French New Wave, but with a stamp that is very much Bertolucci’s own. The film is a marvellous accomplishment, considering the director was only 22 years old at the time of filming.

Fabrizio is an idealistic young man, navigating the tricky period between adolescence and adulthood. He is an avid follower of Marxist teacher Cesare, and holds strong opinions. When his aunt Gina comes to stay with the family, Fabrizio finds his life and ideas complicated by their unusual relationship…

Before the Revolution is a coming-of-age sage in terms of both personal and ideological maturity. The film explores these main preoccupations in Fabrizio’s life, naturally concentrating on one more so than the other at different times. It is in this sense that Bertolucci’s film appears most realistic; Fabrizio’s struggles with his beliefs and opinions take differing levels of importance, depending on the other issues in his life.

Bertolucci’s film is both compelling and flawed. Before the Revolution lacks a firm sense of direction. The pacing is uneven, and the film occasionally drifts off on a tangent before finding its way back. Nevertheless, either because of or in spit of these flaws, the film is immensely interesting.

Fabrizio’s trials seem relatable to the vast majority of the audience, even though his relationship with Gina is unlikely to hold the same resonance. The film’s power is perhaps in this very basic but human struggle. It will not be difficult for older viewers to identify with Fabrizio when he questions the ideology that he has been following. Moreover, despite the abnormality of the central relationship, it is clear why the young man forms such an attachment.

The camera work is disjointed at times, but shows Bertolucci’s emerging talent in capturing images. The close ups certainly achieve the desired effect of intimacy. The short colour sequence is interesting as it shows that Before the Revolution is about cinema as much as anything else. This is exemplified by Fabrizio’s conversation with the cinephile. The interaction is great in its humorous references to some of the director’s influences.

Francesco Barilli offers a measured performance as protagonist Fabrizio. However it is Adriana Asti who steals the show as the chaotic Gina. Asti is fantastic in portraying the character’s varying emotions. She is both wonderfully attractive as the calm Gina and believably agitated when the character is rather more disturbed.

Before the Revolution is uneven, but shows frequent flashes of Bertolucci’s cinematic prowess. It is worthy viewing as an illustration of the director’s early work, as well as independently as an absorbing coming-of-age drama.

Before the Revolution is being screened at the British Film Institute from 8th April 2011 as part of the Bernardo Bertolucci season, as well as selected venues across the UK.