Me And You (Io e te)

Italy (2012) Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci

Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) is an introverted fourteen year-old who prefers his own company to being with others. When encouraged to attend a school ski trip by his mother (Sonia Bergamasco), Lorenzo instead hides in the basement underneath the apartment block where he lives and plans to spend the week in isolation with his ant farm, books and laptop.

Less than a day into his holiday and his drunken half sister Olivia (Tea Falco) tries to force her way into the basement. The black sheep of the family due to her heroin addiction Olivia is looking for somewhere to hide out while detoxing, leading to an awkward week for the estranged half siblings.

Despite a career spanning fifty years with some highly regarded and often controversial films to his name, Bernardo Bertolucci’s output isn’t as prolific as others with such tenure in the business. This film, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Niccolò Ammaniti, is Bertolucci’s first since 2003’s The Dreamers and again sees him dealing with precocious teenagers immersing themselves in their own indulgences while ignoring the world around them.

Our young protagonist Lorenzo is from the Xavier Dolan School of precocious teens – in other words you feel more inclined to want to slap him rather than sympathise with him. The fact he is a sullen, insular teen is one we can live with but his petulant outburst in the car en route to the ski trip pick up point begs the question why his mother didn’t just throw him out of the moving car then reverse over him. Little in the way of what has made Lorenzo such a pain is actually revealed.

He lives with his mother and his father is apparently nowhere to be seen – outside of surreal dream sequence – suggesting the lack of a male influence in his life has contributed to his occasionally oddball behaviour and social ineptitude. Ironically it is through his father’s overactive libido that Olivia walks back into Lorenzo’s life. The product of a prior relationship, Olivia was once a budding photographer until the darker side of the high life dug its claws into her and she is now a heroin addict looking to find a way back to her old self.

With an eleven year age difference and little else than DNA in common, Olivia’s loud drunken brashness clashing with Lorenzo’s need for solitude doesn’t bode well initially. The bond between Lorenzo and Olivia grows exponentially and the reward is two people who finally find themselves thanks to the other, after being lost in the wilderness of their own insecurities and foibles.

Their journey is one of strangers to siblings and while some sexual tension might hover over the proceedings, this is as far as it goes. Neither character is particularly likeable when we first meet them so it is quite a triumph that the final hug they share is able to bring a relieved and supportive smile to the viewer’s face. This is as much down to the performances of the two leads as it is the masterful direction of Bertolucci.

Anyone expecting an incestuous relationship to blossom from this unlikely reunion will be disappointed. Me and You is probably as mellow as Bertolucci is likely to get, especially now he is seventy three years-old. There are plenty of his trademark touches such as the nods to his French idols and his keen eye for great visuals, but it seems the days of controversy after in the distance. In other words, the butter is used exclusively for sandwiches! However other concerns are present for those with a discerning eye.

The age gap between the two half-siblings is less of a problem than the generation gap between Bertolucci and his subjects. Here we have a 73 year old man adapting a novel that was aimed at the older teen market in the modern day, and while it is well made, this is unlikely to appeal to that audience.

This film also suggests the great director isn’t quite in sync with his vastly younger characters as a younger director would be. Lorenxo is far too old fashioned and stuffy for a fourteen year-old while Olivia’s character is far more believable and contemporary. This may be a deliberate ploy to share the story to an audience beyond the novel’s target demographic, and to that end it works, but unlike The Dreamers, that wider audience appeal is absent here.

Making his debut, Jacopo Olmo Antinori impresses almost immediately and not just by his appearance. Resembling a young Malcolm McDowell, complete with the piercing blue eyes, his shock of wild curly hair, acne ridden skin and wisps of teenage facial hair makes him the perfect physical embodiment of a disenfranchised and reticent teen. Antinori captivates the viewer through both the subtleties and overt idiosyncrasies of this complex kid.

Tea Falco takes a while to get into her role as Olivia, starting out as robotic and uneven before throwing of the shackles and letting go as the drug rehabilitation kicks in. These moments feature some wonderful nuances that make the pain that Olivia feels quite palpable. Through Falco’s talent, the change as sobriety takes over is neatly handled to depict a gradual improvement in both her mental and physical health.

Me And You is a worthy enough film that carries the weight of being a Bertolucci film which will help or hinder its success. It won’t be regarded among his greatest works but you could do worse than give this a watch – if only to hear a specially rewritten version of Bowie’s Space Oddity sung in Italian with different lyrics! Mamma Mia!