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Before the Revolution DVD+Blu-ray

Bernardo Bertolucci, 1964


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Film Details

Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

Produced in 1964

Main Language - Italian with English subtitles

Countries & Regions - European Film, Italian Film

MovieMail's Review

A celebration of the passions and ideology of the 1960s, its graphic fusion of politics and sexuality is now clearly recognisable as a Bertolucci trademark, says Michael Brooke.

For financial and practical reasons, the film medium has produced no actual child prodigies, but Bernardo Bertolucci was barely out of his teens when he made the recently reissued The Grim Reaper (1962), and just twenty-three when he wrote and directed Before the Revolution, his first major masterpiece. 

The age is significant, as this is a young man's film in every way: sweepingly ambitious yet touchingly naïve, unmistakably autobiographical yet filtered through the prism of an obsessive cinephilia - there are nods galore both to older Italian masters like Rossellini and Antonioni and Bertolucci's own contemporaries Godard and Truffaut (the French New Wave directors reciprocated by taking Bertolucci's film to their hearts, and its belated release in Paris in early 1968 turned it into a genuine cause célèbre when the student protests began that May). 

Although set in the then present, it was loosely inspired by Stendhal's 1839 novel The Charterhouse of Parma, from which Bertolucci took the location (his own birthplace), the names of the principal characters and their broad-brushstroke dilemmas, though the graphic fusion of politics and sexuality is now clearly recognisable as a Bertolucci trademark.

Idealistic student Fabrizio (Francesco Barilli) is all too conscious that his bourgeois background makes him an unconvincing Marxist, and his political faith is badly dented when a close friend commits suicide. This emotional trauma leads him into a passionate relationship with his alluring young aunt Gina (Adriana Asti, Bertolucci's own wife at the time), a far more genuinely subversive act than anything in his fiery rhetoric, complicated further by Gina's all too evident emotional instability. But while Clelia (Cristina Pariset) might be a better match for Fabrizio, her wealthy background and conservative God-fearing outlook couldn't be further removed from his professed revolutionary ideals, forcing him to choose between idealism and practicality, family and freedom. And will he ever convincingly link his own painfully limited experience of life to the struggles of the oppressed masses? 

The film has a visual eloquence that completely belies its director's relative inexperience, and the lush score blends original Ennio Morricone with appropriately doom-laden extracts from Verdi's Macbeth.

Michael Brooke on 21st July 2011
Author of 154 reviews

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Film Description

A rarely-seen early work from one of world cinema’s most acclaimed directors, Bernardo Bertolucci’s beautifully operatic film Before the Revolution – made when he was just 22 – celebrates the passions and ideology of the 1960s. Part autobiography, part homage to the French new-wave and Italian neo-realists that inspired him, Bertolucci’s second film is an atmospheric, ambiguous portrait of idealistic youth, which won the Cannes Critics’ Week Prize in 1964.

Loosely based on Stendhal's novel 'The Charterhouse of Parma', Before the Revolution follows 20-year-old Marxist Fabrizio (Francesco Barilli) in his idealistic attempt to break away from all things bourgeois. Fabrizio begins his journey by breaking off his engagement to his middle-class childhood sweetheart Clelia. Fabrizio's idealism is shaken, however, when his best friend commits suicide, and he finds a temporary comfort of sorts in the arms of his young, emotionally unstable Aunt Gina (Adriana Asti).

Essential to an understanding of the 1960s, Bertolucci's masterpiece is startling in its freefall style. Throwing out a rich tapestry of references to other films, this is clearly the work of a director in the first flush of brilliance.

DVD+Blu-ray Details

Certificate: 15

Publisher: BFI

Length: 107 mins

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Format: DVD+Blu-ray B&W

Region: 2

Released: 29th August 2011

Cat No: BFIB1099

DVD+Blu-ray Extras

  • 2 discs
  • On-set footage (1963, DVD only): extract from Italian TV series Cinema d’oggi featuring an interview with the young Bertolucci
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Interview with Bernardo Bertolucci (Giuseppe Bertolucci, 2003, 46 mins, DVD only)
  • Interviews with Roberto Perpignani, Vittorio Storaro and Ennio Morricone (Giuseppe Bertolucci, 2003, 26 mins, DVD only)
  • Working Copy (Giuseppe Bertolucci, 2003, 31 mins, DVD only): comparisons between the working and final versions of the film
  • Bernardo Bertolucci in conversation with David Thompson (2011, 12 mins, DVD only): Q&A recorded at BFI Southbank
  • 22-page illustrated booklet with notes and essays.

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