Act one of 1900, Bernardo Bertolucci’s 317-minute historical epic, comes to its resolutely ludicrous end when Attila, a budding Hun-like fascist in prewar Italy, head-butts a cat to death in a public square. Later, as if to dispel any remaining doubt about the moral character of these fascists, Bertolucci has Attila bash a small peasant child’s brains in on a whim, which in terms of subtlety is only a notch above a subtitle reading, “This guy is evil.”
It’s been nearly 40 years since 1900 shocked the arthouse with its lurid broad strokes, and it seems that Bertolucci has finally lost interest in filth.
Rather, he’s content to follow the altogether mundane exploits of Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori), a moony 14-year-old whose interests don’t extend much further than tending to an ant farm and listening to Arcade Fire. Call it The 400 Blows for millennials.
Gone are the buttered-up provocations of Last Tango in Paris and the nubile debauchery of The Dreamers; the only coming Lorenzo gets up to is of age. There’s always something endearing about a septuagenarian auteur building a film around a teenage boy, and Me and You savors the vitality and playfulness afforded by its subject’s youth. But this is nothing more than vague romanticism.
Bertolucci, despite his obvious affection for Lorenzo, can’t help but seem out of touch, and his hero looks and sounds less like a modern-day teen than an old man’s wistful idea of one.