Bernardo Bertolucci, 103 mins, 15

Jonathan Romney on Me and You: This boy in the basement keeps us all in the dark

3.00

Bertolucci's none-too-subtle study of youthful alienation is a film for auteurists – but claustrophobics beware

It often comes as a shock to remember that some of cinema's most revered elders were once young firebrands. Bernardo Bertolucci was only 21 when he directed his first feature The Grim Reaper and 23 when he followed it up with Before the Revolution, one of the best films about the torments of youth. Today, aged 73, the maestro returns to that same subject, in a modest and intimate film – essentially a two-hander set in a cramped basement.

In the Seventies and Eighties, in epics such as The Last Emperor, Bertolucci worked on a monumental scale. But recently he's been using a small canvas and musing on themes of enclosure. Besieged, The Dreamers and now Me and You are about people in tight spaces, living on top of each other, interacting in pressure-cooker conditions.

Me and You is again about youth, but it rather comes across as a film-maker of a certain age setting out to make a film about The Young People of Today and the Problems They Face. In fact, some of the dilemmas afflicting Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) aren't especially new – Holden Caulfield would understand exactly what's eating him. The sullen, withdrawn teenager lives with his divorced mother and is taciturnly undergoing therapy sessions. Dining out with Mamma in an elegant restaurant, the boy taunts her with hints of incestuous fantasy. Isolated at school, he straps on his headphones and mooches alone to Muse. Well, maybe it's just a phase.

Instead of going on a school trip, Lorenzo hides out in his flat's basement storage room, digging himself in for a long, solitary sulk. Then in storms an unwelcome guest – his older half-sister Olivia, barking into her mobile and wearing a huge furry coat, as if she's just come straight from modelling grunge glam at Milan Fashion Week. She has a drug problem, and soon goes into one of the more decorous cold-turkey ordeals on film (certainly by Trainspotting standards) as she shivers in her black undies on a squalid toilet floor, then huddles up cosily on the sofa.

Co-scripted by Niccolo Ammaniti from his own novel, Me and You depends on the two young stars working together on a restricted stage – which just about comes off, even if they never quite catch fire. The spud-faced Antinori is an unusual, abrasive presence; he looks like a junior version of Michael Shannon (currently American cinema's most reliably unnerving physiognomy), and Bertolucci makes good use of what seems the actor's own teenage oscillation between diffidence and restlessness.

Tea Falco is more distractingly a star turn. Her character, uncomfortably larger than life, is a tormented beauty and precocious feted video artist now venting her angst through a series of photographic self-portraits called I Am a Wall ("Visually I wanted to dematerialise"). Falco swans around imposingly and has an extraordinary, petulantly slurred voice, but she's so obviously a Find that she overpowers the film. Her Olivia would surely have Lorenzo cowering behind the sofa.

The cellar, which tells its own story, is full of the clutter left by a previous aristocratic tenant. Among the junk is a famous modernist bust of Mussolini – in other words, Italy is still haunted by its repressed but ever-present past.

This is one of the subtler touches of a sometimes heavy-handed film. When the young duo launch a raid on Lorenzo's flat, they find his mother asleep in front of the TV – ah, the narcotised bourgeoisie! Some false notes suggest that Bertolucci has asked an assistant to research what young people are into these days – the really alienated, moody ones – and received stale information. (Ammaniti's novel was published in 2010 but is set in 2000.) Lorenzo favours the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Cure – not just any Cure, mind you, but "Boys Don't Cry". He also reads Interview with the Vampire, which, to be fair, is what you might immerse yourself in if you were 14 and had sworn off daylight for a week.

For further underlining, Bertolucci uses a song called "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl"), which is the 1969 Italian version of "Space Oddity". There's a nice jolt of unfamiliarity in hearing the young Bowie doing a Euro-cabaret version of this then-fresh chestnut, so we hardly need the original as well, accompanying a closing nod to Truffaut's The 400 Blows.

For all its flaws, this is clearly a personal film that may click with Bertolucci's auteurist fans, echoing as it does the incest drama of La Luna (1979) and Before the Revolution, about a young man obsessed with his glamorous aunt. But even with fabled auteurs, being consistent with yourself isn't always enough. After 103 minutes in the dark with Bertolucci's young neurotics, you may be glad to see the daylight.

Critic's Choice

Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes and Bradley Cooper take a surprising left turn or two in Derek Cianfrance's unpredictable US thriller The Place Beyond the Pines. London's 2nd Argentine Film Festival ends today with the Fellini-esque Sadourni's Butterflies: passion, porn, circuses and Surrealism, at the Ritzy Picturehouse, Brixton.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk