There are a handful of directors whose names lead me to expect greatness. Bertolucci is definitely one of them. He has written and directed some of the most successful and critically acclaimed films of the last 50 years. From The Conformist to 1900 to The Last Emperor and The Sheltering Sky, his movies have frequently been political and sweeping in scope. His latest by contrast is a small film adaptation of a popular young adult novel with no big name actors and it takes place mostly in a very dingy basement. But it just goes to show how good a director he really is. It is a slight piece, but entertaining and assured filmmaking.
Lorenzo is a 14-year-old boy who just wants to be left alone. He tells his mom he’s going on a school ski trip, but stocks the basement room of his apartment building with all the things he needs to live a week on his own instead. And just when he is settling in to his perfect bachelor week, Olivia, his beautiful 25-year-old half-sister, shows up and messes up his plans. When she arrives, it is clear that the two of them don’t really know each other. She and her mom were pushed aside when Lorenzo’s mom came into the picture, and Lorenzo has never really thought about his father’s other family. It turns out that Olivia is a junkie who desperately wants to clean herself up and has nowhere else to go. She’s there to go cold turkey so she can be with the man she loves. And as much as Lorenzo tries initially to keep his distance, he comes around to be her helper, and she to be his friend.
The film beautifully captures Lorenzo’s shell breaking just a crack or two and Olivia’s herculean effort to think of someone other than herself for a change. There is a scene near the end of the film where they dance together to an Italian version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, only the Italian lyrics are all about loneliness, and it is kind of a perfect accompaniment to these two lost souls’ relationship. When the week is over, they both make promises that you never know whether they will keep, but you are left hoping. It is a small film from a big director and may not be one that gets a lot of press, but I liked it. Being set for the most part in a dark enclosed space could have made the film feel like a stage play, but it didn’t. And both of the actors were really quite good at portraying compelling characters. For the foreign film lovers out there, I’d recommend it. And I happily look forward to more from Bernardo!