It’s good to keep in mind that Bertolucci was in his early twenties when he made Before the Revolution, and that the protagonist, Fabrizio, is only twenty himself. The film is bursting with ideas and cinematic effects like somebody besotted with the art, and his talent – it even satirizes the archetypal super serious cineaste in one scene! There are times when it might even seem to some like a parody of the serious European avante-garde film – Woody Allen’s spoof was mentioned by my wife – but it is, in the end, a fabulous movie!
A movie, but the texts have it! A film about people obsessed with words and texts. Who can take them seriously, especially if you’re an American, raised in a culture where politics is a corrupt circus for grasping old farts that means nothing to anyone? Especially a generation (or two) after the revolution, or at least after the revolution that never was, the 1960s? Who watching this film now can relate to Fabrizio’s intellectual predicament, his desire to be more radical than thou, while also being one with the people and hating his family background, while loving his aunt, Gina…? What a mess!
Fabrizio is the son of a Parma family of bourgeoisie – the kind that lives in a creaky old palace filled with 19th century furniture and chandeliers. It’s stuffy as hell, so he is taking lessons from a serious fellow with glasses, the local school teacher who also tutors young men in the ways of communism. He’s smart, but tough – he tells Fabrizio that he “talks like a book,” but the student is only trying to be good, spouting the words of his tutor’s masters. When Fabrizio brings Gina, his aunt and lover to meet the teacher, they all duel in quotations read from books on the shelves. Who does Gina quote? Oscar Wilde. My favorite socialist. ( How Oscar would have laughed at the pretentious statements by Fabrizio’s friend about the relative morality of this over that shot in cinema!)
Marxist texts, Proust, Wilde, and finally, Moby Dick, of all things. Fabrizio buckles under to history and family, and decides to get with the bourgeois program: He marries his very pretty, but supposedly dull, childhood sweetheart. A perfect match. As Fabrizio gets a wedding send off – he’s only seen from the back – and moves off into middleclass embalment, Gina furiously kisses his younger brother’s face and hair in an agony of displaced and frustrated love. The teacher recites to his young students the speech of Captain Ahab in which he makes clear to his crew the nature of the absurd and furious quest to which they have signed on… Is it Life?
During an outing, Fabrizio and Gina visit an old friend of hers, Puck. He is a dead-end aristocrat. In an operatic speech, he bewails the destruction of the old order natural and social, as the camera soars over the landscape, soon to be bulldozed by progress…
Fabrizio and his tutor check on the the People at the annual Festival of Unity. They seem to be out of step with the masses.
The wedding seals Fabrizio’s fate, and Gina’s.
No revolution. Not for Fabrizio. Not for the schoolkids
Certainly not for Gina.