Somehow I feel like this was a perfect film for that weird week that comes between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a liminal sort of week where there’s no plan and things just sort of meander; a meme I’ve seen discusses how for most of December you’re feeling “festive”, and then in January you’re feeling you indulged a bit much; but for that one week, you’re “confused, full of cheese, and unsure of the day of the week”. There were a lot of good elements to this film, but somehow they didn’t gel, leaving me confused and unsure what I felt.
Fabrizio (Francesco Barilli) is a young man in Parma, Italy in the 1960s; he’s from a mundane middle-class family, but has been spending a lot of time with Cesare (Morando Morandini), a teacher who’s turned him on to the Communist Party. And Fabrizio’s twenty-something zeal gloms onto that to the point that he’s considering renouncing his parents and his entire way of life up to that point – or, at least, that’s what he tells his best friend Agostino (Allen Midgette) one afternoon. Agostino seems to be troubled himself, but Fabrizio is too caught up in his Grand Life Plan to notice….so he’s taken by surprise when Agostino later drowns himself.
The shock knocks Fabrizio for a loop – which his mother sees as the perfect excuse to Get Fabrizio Some Help. She invites her sister Gina (Adriana Asti) for a visit; Gina is a good deal younger, closer to Fabrizio’s age, and Fabrizio’s parents think that she might be able to get through to him and sort him out. But Gina’s having a hard enough time keeping her own self sorted out. And so, instead of Gina giving Fabrizio some familial advice, the pair start hooking up. It does get Fabrizio’s mind off politics….however, that’s only because now he’s obsessed with Gina. He makes a half-hearted effort to turn her on to politics, introducing her to Cesare and encouraging her to join in their philosophical talk….and he gets jealous when Gina introduces him to an old boyfriend of hers, an older man she calls “Puck” (Cecrope Barilli). Fabrizio causes a scene at their meeting – but it’s unclear whether he’s scornful of Puck’s bourgeoise lifestyle or just jealous over Gina – and ultimately he’s left confused, full of conflicting ideas, and unsure what he believes any more.
So, I could tell that this film was trying to say a lot. And some of those things were indeed thought-provoking; good portions of the film suggest that Fabrizio’s idealism is misplaced and naive, but it’s not clear whether director Bernardo Bertolucci thinks this is a sad happenstance or just the natural way of things. (Although, there’s a late sequence at a Communist Party rally where two girls who are supposed to be handing out leaflets are more caught up in discussing Marilyn Monroe’s recent death, which suggests Bertolucci thinks the latter.) Gina’s situation is also left really frustratingly vague; there’s one scene in which she calls her therapist long-distance, and their emergency one-sided conversation suggests that Gina’s struggling with some fairly intense mental struggles. But – this is the only scene that alludes to that, and we never learn more other than she sometimes feels anxiety and can’t sleep. We never learn why. ….There’s also an uneasy moment right at the end when Gina fawns over Fabrizio’s younger brother in a bit of a creepy way (not that Gina and Fabrizio hooking up was all that fantastic, but at least both were adults).
So ultimately I wasn’t sure what to make of this. It was too good for me to write it off, but too unfocused for me to really sign on; and I simply couldn’t come to grips with it.