A complicated kinship, built out of divorce, offers a surprising safe haven for two narcissistic half-sibilings in Me and You, Bernardo Bertolucci’s first film in nearly a decade. As teenaged Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) unexpectedly becomes temporary roommates with his slightly older half-sister, Olivia (Tea Falco), during a week-long hideout in the storage basement of his mother’s apartment building, the fissions of their respective home lives—they have the same father—becomes more apparent, as do the curvatures of their sexual and psychological identities. Bertolluci, far from the romanticized juvenescence of The Dreamers, soberly details Lorenzo’s perversity, verbal antagonizing, and isolationism, and Olivia’s cold-turkey attempt to quit heroin, with his customarily vibrant, seasoned style that hums with both the regret of age and the uncertainty of youth.
In the subterranean environs of the basement, Lorenzo initially only wants some alone time to read Anne Rice, dance to Red Hot Chili Peppers, and play with his ant farm. Olivia’s unexpected arrival is convenient to the narrative, but speaks loudly to her connection with her half-brother: They’re both natural hiders, indirect and elusive out of pure instinct. They operate at a remove, through drugs and provocation, and Bertolucci captures their slyly belligerent behaviors with an attention toward how the duo masks their respective vulnerabilities. His use of dramatic yellows, a familiar component to his depiction of exotic, sprawling settings, is here pared down to a few scenes, most remarkably in a restaurant where Lorenzo publicly interrogates his mother (Sonia Bergamasco) about apocalyptic scenarios that would lead to an incestual tryst between mother and son. In contrast, the pale blues of the moon shining down on lonely nights, not unlike the one’s found in the second half of The Conformist, are more frequent and take on a becalming sheen in the film.
The drama remains appealingly off-kilter for the most part, but Me and You is not without familiar histrionics, namely in relation to Olivia’s recovery from addiction, which causes her to spend a great deal of the time screaming and crying in the bathroom. And a climactic sing-along stews in a risible sentimentalism to the central relationship that the film otherwise avoids. Still, the film maintains a certain effortless eloquence, a propensity to dazzle in very modest but piercing ways, such as the long take of Olivia dancing down the corridor that links the basement to the outside world. Bertolluci reacts the most warmly to poisonous unions, whether through blood, religion, or lust, and here he finds a distinct intimacy between two hampered loners at once drawn together and rejected by their familial ties.
Film Comment Selects runs from February 17—27.