Last Tango in the Basement: Me and You 

Me and You
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

If anyone’s surprised that Bernardo Bertolucci is still around making films, it’s worth remembering that he started young, making his directorial debut in 1962 as a kid of 21, and the masterful Before the Revolution only a couple years later. Me and You is his first since 2003’s The Dreamers, and it finds him as besotted with youth as he was in that outrageously earnest paean to 1968, sex and cinephilia. Hints of incest remain (a recurrent interest in Bertolucci’s filmography), but any eroticism is only suggested, significantly dialed back from The Dreamers’s NC-17 explicitness. That film’s shoot-the-moon bravura and emo carnality are a little missed in Me and You, in which the director’s modest ambitions yield modest dividends.

Adapted from a novel by Niccolò Ammaniti, the film is light on plot. Lorenzo (newcomer Jacopo Olmo Antinori) is a moody fourteen-year-old who lies to his mother about being on a school ski trip, when really he’s holed up in their building’s storage basement, soon to be joined by an older half-sister, the intimidating, heroin-addicted Olivia (Tea Falco). That’s about it—Olivia attempts to go cold turkey (providing the film’s gruesomest moments) and the duo make a few furtive journeys out of their cave, while their closeness allows the two budding narcissists to feel empathy for someone with a different variety of damage. Me and You’s stifling staginess receives a jolt with an Italian-language singalong of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” and when a silver-haired creep, invited by Olivia, appears, enflaming Lorenzo’s jealousy.

In Last Tango in Paris, Besieged and The Dreamers, Bertolucci confirmed that expansive drama can thrive in confined spaces, but Me and You never seems to push beyond the claustrophobic environs of the basement. Lorenzo has an ant farm, an on-the-nose metaphor that unmissably announces that Themes are being explored, but this little character study’s concerns rarely rise above the microcosmic. Antinori, with his age-appropriate acne and froglike features somewhat resembling a young Michael Shannon, is a refreshingly non-traditional screen presence, but his troubles and schemes, like Olivia’s, are all too ordinary and, frankly, uninteresting.

Opens July 4 at Lincoln Plaza


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