05/23/2012 01:47 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Cannes 2012: Bertolucci Takes on Alienation (After a Ten Year Absence)

It seems a small movie at first: the famed Bernardo Bertolucci's new film Me and You about a pimply alienated 14-year-old boy, who lives alone with his single mom. The boy slinks around school, hiding from others with his iPod. He disappears into his room and reads fantasy novels.


Then he decides to hide out in a basement for a week, instead of going on a ski trip.

The movie becomes sharp right then: with a close-up of the ant colony the boy likes to observe. The drama subsequently perks with the fresh appearance of the boy's half-sister, a fellow alienated adolescent, played with verve by newcomer Tea Falco, who hides out from her own pain -- with drugs.


The conversation between the siblings in the dank cellar -- the ensuing love between two outsiders -- slowly takes a grip on the audience until the climax: a heartbreaking scene to David Bowie's "Space Oddity" (sung in Italian) that moved me to tears.

Bertolucci greeted his public after the premiere, coming into the press room in his wheelchair. It is a rare appearance: Berloccui has not made a film for ten years.


Yet it is not the first time Bertolucci has treated solitude. One recalls his masterpiece The Conformist (1970), about a man so detached from his middle class environment that he becomes fascist spy, or Last Tango in Paris (1972), about a strange tryst between two alienated strangers.

Now the subject is an introverted 14-year-old boy. How was Bertolucci able to enter the mental life of an adolescent?

"I think I am a case of arrested development," Bernardo laughed with a boyish glint. "So this was not so difficult. It also helps that the book by Niccolo Ammaniti, on which the film is based, is written in first person. We are always in the mind of the Lorenzo.... "

What about the importance of the basement set? Bertolucci's flms are known for their psychically charged spaces: empty beige apartments and grand chandeliered halls.

And now we have a dark cellar with a red velvet coach and ants.

My French set designer [Jean Rabasse] showed me all these basements he has scouted: with water that entered, crumbling walls. Our basement is a collage of them all: there is a certain magic created by the light, when the camera plays with the actors, that moment when they all dance together. In this cellar, the two characters have entered their unconscious, into our unconscious, into the unconscious of everyone who has worked on the film.

Bertolucci openly shared his own connection with "the cellar" of this film:

"For me, this film is a return to life. I have lived for the last ten years in a kind of torpor. I woke up when I accepted that I am different physically. When I accepted my situation and did not fight it. When I read this book it made me want to make a movie."

All photos by Karin Badt