Olivia and Lorenzo, the heroes of “Io e Te”
Olivia and Lorenzo, the heroes of “Io e Te”

“Me and You/Io e Te” is the last incarnation of the director’s incessant interest in the periods of historical transition and in historical change. If to compare his films with one another we can appreciate their power of stimulating our interest in understanding of history as an alive process. It is Bertolucci’s dedication to the problems of historical development, it seems, that made him focus on the existential and psychological conditions of the young people who were always movers, participants, or fans and even lovers of historical rejuvenation. It is not surprising, that relationships between children and the young (who are prone “instinctively” to yearn for alternatives), on the one side and adults on the other, also attracts Bertolucci’s creative attention, for example between children and their parents, sometimes between the same person as a child and as an adult.

From 25 fiction films Bertolucci made up to this point at least thirteen are dedicated to the problems of youth vis-à-vis the world of adults. Bertolucci is not just interested in private aspects of relationships of course, he as a scholar by the type of his analytical approach to life, is motivated by the principle of systemic understanding. For him personal relations are always impregnated by life styles in concrete historical epochs. He wants to understand how common values and norms and resistance to them are influencing the relations between people. Bertolucci’s complicated approach to societal and human life, today when commercial orientation of cinema as a medium is dominant, is often considered “too intellectual”, “too abstract, and fuzzy and murky”, but Bertolucci continues to surprise the world with the beautiful stubbornness of the analytic style of his films in their content and form. With years of directing he is losing neither his alert heart nor his scholarly head.

The first uncompromising image in “Jo e Te”, endlessly repeated in the film is… the extremely blemished face of the main protagonists, especially Lorenzo‘s, the boy of fourteen. For the director to allow himself to do this is already a “revolution in cinema” where appealing appearance of the “star” is the main key able to open the exhausted pockets of the mass viewers. Nobody, even Godard, even Resnais, even Bergman could do such a thing. Why Bertolucci decided to neglect the principle of facial beauty? In “Io e Te” he made the concept of prettiness of the face contradictory, even conflictual – more semantically loaded and more aggressively so. We see how the beauty of being human, of having intelligence irradiates from not just the face of the heroine (Olivia) but from the face of Lorenzo in spite of their difficult, practically, almost fatal psychological situation. What is about of their different but similarly impossible situation? What don’t they have that other children and young people have? The question here rather is what the generation of young people today doesn’t have that the previous European and American generations had (or didn’t have in a much lesser degree than today’s youth). It is Lorenzo’s and Olivia’s incompatibility with the world of adults as it objectively is, the impossibility for them to fit into the categories of adulthood as modern Western world despotically, anti-democratically puts itself on them for mechanical imitation. Western societies don’t negotiate with its youth anymore – they manipulate children and young people through technically advanced toys, gadgets-toys and toy-like images and maxims like “life is as it is and to accept it is a sign of being adult”. Conformism becomes wisdom.

By comparing not just Lorenzo and Olivia’s lives but their psychological condition with the young heroes of Bertolucci’s films before, we see that our step-brother and step-sister are much more deprived than the heroes of the “Before the Revolution” (1964), “Partner” (1968), “The Conformist” (1970), “The Spider’s Strategem” (1970), “1900” (1976), “Luna” (1979), “Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man” (1981), “The Last Emperor” (1987), “Little Buddha” (1993), “Stealing Beauty” (1996), “The Dreamers” (2003). They are more impulsive, depressed and confused but no less able to produce in viewers a feeling of optimism about their future. This is one of the miracles of Bertolucci’s film. Lorenzo and Olivia are less conformist than their peers not in a political sense but existentially. They believe their emotional reactions on their social environments more than society’s inventive brainwashing.

Lorenzo is very close to Joe, the hero of “Luna”, but still is much less of a personality, less articulate, more smashed by his parents’ almost militant triviality. His resistance is childishly escapist. He is too passionate about his improvised hole with long sleeves of labyrinth-like corridors in the basement of the building where his parents own apartment. His identification with animals (armadillo) and insects (ants) is much more regressive than Joe’s pursuing drugs and sex. Imitating armadillo’s movements and feeding and compulsively observing ants helps him go through his days. Psychological and spiritual regression of the very existential atmosphere in the 21st century is much more radical than it was in the last part of the 20th century. The gloom of Bertolucci’s vision is truthful, and painful to witness. It is not only that the youth in democracies failed to save the world, it cannot save itself. It is betrayed by the adults who themselves have lost deep sources of their ontological vitality and are transformed by their life into eccentric robots digging day and night for money-roots and money-mushrooms.

For Lorenzo desperate non-being in the basement is better than pseudo-being of his parents. The film reveals youth’s search for negative identity as a hiding place for self-therapy. And, it looks that Bertolucci wants us to take the pain of his vision and to tolerate it, if we want eventually become able to overcome the present crisis of Western democracy.