Fabrizio is the son of a rich bourgeois family who is drawn to the politics of the huge Italian Communist Party in the early 1960s.
Post-war jitters hang heavy over the bourgeoisie where he lives in Parma, southern Italy.
Bernardo Bertolucci was 22 years old when he made Before the Revolution (Prima della rivoluzione) and it’s a startling achievement.
Now the 1964 film has been remastered and is on a limited release that should introduce the director to a new audience.
Bertolucci would go on to become one of Europe’s most brilliant filmmakers—a Marxist who engaged politically with the generation radicalised by 1968 through films like The Conformist and 1900.
Class pressures on Fabrizio constantly undermine his radicalism. His teacher and mentor, Cesare, is deeply involved in the Communist Party and encourages Fabrizio to read and for his ideas to become more concrete.
The young man breaks off his engagement with the rich Clelia in an attempt to pursue a more radical life.
But he embarks on a passionate and troubled love affair with his aunt Gina.
She suffers from emotional and psychological fevers and is only concerned for her own survival. She personifies the interests of the rich at the time.
This monochrome film casts the characters’ features into stark relief. Gina’s dark eyes and hair stand strikingly against her pale skin.
The camera roams across faces and expressions. It sometimes judders or films half the face of a leading character. Its action helps to communicate the intense, inward-looking perspective of the upper classes—and their discomfort is satisfying to watch.
But the battle for Fabrizio’s political soul is ultimately lost. He is completely detached from the working class, and never interacts with ordinary members of the Communist Party.
The film teaches us not to invest false hope in bourgeois intellectuals—they are fickle friends of the revolution.
Written and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
On limited release and part of the BFI Bertolucci season www.bfi.org.uk/whatson/bfi_southbank/film_programme/april_seasons/bernardo_bertolucci