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 The sullen, withdrawn teenager lives with his divorced mother and is taciturnly undergoing therapy sessions.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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
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.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee