Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Writer: Gilbert Adair
Cinematographer: Fabio Cianchetti
by Jon Cvack
It’s films like this that make me wonder about the NC-17 rating. I was expecting a Crash or Nympomaniac-style non-stop orgy pool, but really it’s a few easy-R rated sex scenes wit the characters walking around naked a lot with a bit confusing inches . The way Bertolucci directs the piece makes for incredibly respectful nudity where once the characters begin to discard the clothes, I was perfectly comfortable, no matter the taboos.
The film is about 20-year old American student Matthew (Michael Pitt) who journeys to France, who finds himself obsessed with the world famous Cinematheque. Also occurring are the ‘68 student protests against the French government. Matthew meets siblings, Theo and Isabelle (Louis Garrel and Evan Green), and they invite him back to their apartment where the parents have left town for an extended vacation.
Although it’s been a few days since I’ve seen the film, I still don’t really understand what was going on between the sister and brother and their incestuous relationship. Isabelle had never been on date, and she enters into a vicious and exorbitant fit of jealous rage when Theo brings home a girl all while she’s getting eaten out by Matthew. It felt as though a significant chunk of information was missing. The parents didn’t seem domineering or overly protective and I kept on asking myself what would have caused it and why it mattered. If they were step-siblings or on-and-off lovers it would have been easier to buy.
Ebert believes that their regard for sex and each other is based off the revolution going on around them, largely fueled by the cutting edge cinema of the time, which was challenging ideas of alternative art forms and ways of thinking. Perhaps, with Isabelle and Theo splitting the bulk of their time between the apartment and cinema (both as escapes from the revolution outside) they chose to participate in the ultimate act of revolt by entering into a relation with each other. Again, I just don’t why that would matter; especially with Theo’s regard for the war in Vietnam where, in a great and very real scene (all of us have had one of these arguments), Theo and Matthew debate the morality of whether anyone should accept going to Vietnam and stand to murder, or choose prison. Yet for all his passion he too is stuck in the apartment. Isabelle is aware of how strange their relationship is, portending the film’s conclusion by declaring she’d kill herself if her parents ever found out. When they come home and find the three naked, in a house full of cigarette buttes and empty wine bottles, opting to leave them a blank check rather than yell, it’s clear that they too are ill-equipped to handle their children. Isabelle’s attempt at suicide is finally disrupted when a brick from the protest outside comes crashing through the window. For once, they choose to participate.
Many consider the cinema a place of dreams. It offers a break from reality. Ebert mentions how there was a line around the block for Godard’s ‘Weekend’ premiere in 1967. Back in 2003, he said you couldn’t even force people to check out one of his films today. I’m not sure if the cinema will ever return to what it once was. With the onslaught of alternative media pulling for our attention in every which way, cinema has taken the far backseat. Perhaps Bertolucci was declaring that cinema no longer allows the escape or galvanization it once did. Instead, with all that began to transpire post-9/11, there was no escaping the horrors of the world. We were in it and had to deal with reality and all the terror it contains. How incest plays into this I still have no idea.
BELOW: A beautiful moment between Theo and Matthew inside a blanket fort
Thoughts on films, old and new
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