Bernardo Bertolucci is one of my favourite directors. He has never once disappointed me yet. In his latest film, lo e te (me and you) (2012) he explores the strange relationship between two half siblings inside the basement of their house.
The opening scene of the movie already gives us a hint of the context in which we are to see the film. We see pimple faced 14 year old Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) sitting in front of the desk of a shrink. His face is full of anger. He is rude, un-cooperative and unresponsive and was dying for the session to end. He couldn't wait to stand up once his hour is over. The shrink tried his best to be tolerant and understanding but Lorenzo couldn't care less. Next we see him in the school corridor. Despite some invitation by a girl to join her later in her fun activity, he ignored her and continued to listen to the pop music pouring into his ears from his ear phones. He lived in a world of his own, drowned in the waves of sound from the latest heavy rhythm rock music on his headphone. His ear phones served as the muffer to his psyche, locking out anyone trying to get in. His lady teacher reminded the students to bring the money for the coming ski trip and said the next day is the last day for handing in the money if they did not want to miss the ski trip. The following day, we see him with an envelope with money inside. He took out the money and put it inside his trousers pocket and crumpled up the envelope. After class, we see him going into a supermarket, buying 7 packets of orange juice, 7 canned meat, peanut butter and bread. The following morning he packed his stuff for the school ski trip. He was driven to school by his nagging mother and he shouted at her mother not to drive right in front of the school gate because no kid of his age would be so driven by his mother. His mother insisted on taking him all the way to the school gate. He flew into a rage and shouted at his mother to stop well before she reached the gate. His mother backed down. He got off and continued walking to the school. All the students were preparing to board the big hired coach. We see him dodging his head amidst the crowd and boarding a city bus and returned home. He installed himself in the family basement, listened to his music and read a horror novel about vampires. But he was not alone long. Unexpectedly, his half sister Olivia (Tea Falco) arrived. He asked her to go. She refused. He begged her. She still refused. There was no way she would leave. He tried to push her out. She shouted and threatened to continue shouting until the whole neighborhood would hear her. He backed down. Then his mother called him and asked to to speak to his teacher. Olivia stood out for him and pretended to the his teacher. She saved him from being exposed to further questioning by his mother. Soon, he discovered Olivia shaking all over. She was experiencing withdrawal symptoms. She told him that she was on drugs and wanted to kick off the habit and needed a place to do so all alone. She said that she would stay there a few days and then would leave to a friend's place in a horse farm. She had decided to kick the habit because her former lover would not agree to have her back unless she was clean.
In the course of the film we see all the withdrawal symptoms normally suffered by a drug addict, dizziness, shivering, feeling of nausea, vomiting etc. They got talking. Lorenzo discovered from her that his father had dumped her mother for Lorenzo's and said that their father bought the house at a discount from a down and out woman aristocratic who sold the house but retained the right to continue to live there until she died and that's why he found so many women's clothes in the cellar. She explained that she used to be a photographer who won some award in America and that she wanted to pick up her life again by weaning herself from heroin. Lorenzo then did what he could to help her. She told Lorenzo that she once had an exhibition in LA with the title "The Wall". According to her, we can walk through the wall if we like as if the wall which separates others from us did not exist, the way Buddha taught us. As the film ends, we see the two emerging from the family cellar into sunlight again, in the middle of the street. We see Lorenzo hugging Olivia to bid her farewell under the morning sunlight in the middle of the streets. Each has won their own battle through mutual help. They were reconciled to each other and to the world. And we see Lorenzo returning home. This final scene reminds me of that The Last Tango in Paris, where we see Marlon Brando emerging from the darkness of his hotel, opening the window and letting the rays of the morning sun fall on his face as he surveys Paris.
To me, the family cellar is also a hide out where they may keep everything unneeded there; their memories, their secrets, everything hidden is locked away and concealed, covered over in cloth or plastic sheets or by dust. From time to time, we need to take out stuffs from there and put them to new uses. Is that not what Lorenzo is instinctively doing at the start of the film? It's there that both Lorenzo and Olivia put their lives together again. Is Bertolucci trying to tell us that it's the womb of the half brother and sister from which they may derive secret nourishment, away from the sight of the external world? Is he suggesting that it's the purgatory of their soul, their unconscious? Is it a kind of crucible where they must first suffer in silence and in this case, with support from each other? First Olivia rejected any offer of help from Lorenzo but when she could not sleep, she begged for help and Lorenzo went to see her grandmother in hospital and took some sleeping pills from her for Olivia's use, thus establishing a new family bonding .And when she had overcome the first pains of biological dependence on drugs, she asked for food and again Lorenzo helped him by stealing some from the family frige. The family cellar thus proved to be kind of alchemical crucible of their psyche in which they transformed themselves through their suffering, to emerge chastened and empowered to meet again the pressures of life. It is also literally the cellar where their family secrets are normally kept, where everything is, so to speak , locked away from everyday consciousness.It was in that hole that Olivia promised Lorenzo to stay clean and it was there that Lorenzo promised Olivia never to escape from life again.
The lighting of the settings of that cellar is excellent. it fully brought out the desolate atmosphere felt by Lorenzo and Olivia but there is always hope. They can still access a little sunlight streaming in from a tiny window at ground level. The acting by Antinori and Falco is excellent. They portrayed so well the state of mind of the two half-siblings: their fears, their angers and their hopes. The film is narrated from the viewpoint of Lorenzo. We are enveloped in Lorenzo's mind. We hear and see what he hears and sees. The camera work is obviously the result of some very careful planning. Bertolucci never disappointed me before. Neither has he done so in the portrait of the salvation of two members of that Italian family.