Before the Revolution (1964)
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
February 8 at Anthology Film Archives, part of its A Tribute to Amos Vogel and "Film as a Subversive Art"
Bertolucci’s daring sophomore film, about a young, well-off Marxist named Fabrizio (Franceso Barilli) who begins a torrid love affair with his aunt (Adriana Asti), is preoccupied more with the conscience of the upper class than with how the other half lives. Bertolucci’s interest in people’s conflicted ties to tradition, family wealth and social justice would continue throughout his career (as would a tendency for sexually provocative material), but Before the Revolution, set in Bertolucci’s hometown of Parma and released in 1964 when he was just 23 years old, has the immediacy of a film made by a young director going through the same turmoil as his characters. In a 1965 interview, Bertolucci described himself as “a Marxist with all the love, all the passion, and all the despair of a bourgeois who chooses Marxism”—characteristics that could all describe Fabrizio as well.
Like much of Bertolucci’s early work, Revolution does little to hide its references to other films and directors. Italian neo-realism and the French New Wave feature heavily, while the focus on an aimless, dispirited, and possibly doomed upper class distinctly brings to mind Antonioni’s earlier profiles of European ennui. (The cinematographer, Aldo Scavarda, also shot Antonioni’s L’Avventura.) But it’s not fair to look at Before the Revolution as merely part of a great director’s coming of age: the film is remarkable precisely because it at once exhibits a young director wrestling with his greatest influences and an artist already in full control of his craft.