Bernardo Bertolucci - Grim Reaper (La Commare Secca) (1962) - DVD
Bernardo Bertolucci proved to be Italian cinema’s great prodigy, making his debut The Grim Reaper at the age of 22, and Before the Revolution at the age of 24; achievements comparable to Orson Welles directing Citizen Kane at the age of 25. He was born in Parma in 1940. He initially followed the footsteps of his father Attilio, a noted poet and critic. His poetry received prizes at competitions and a collection of his work was published while he was still a teenager. But his attention was already diverted to the cinema, especially after viewing Godard’s Breathless. His planned transition from poetry to cinema found an accomplice in fellow poet Pier Paolo Pasolini. A family friend, he regarded Bertolucci as a kindred spirit and tasked him as his assistant on his landmark debut, Accattone. The experience, described by Bertolucci as witnessing “the invention of the cinema” further ignited his own ambitions.
The Grim Reaper was based on a story by Pasolini but the resulting film displayed a visual style at some distance from the director of Mamma Roma. Where Pasolini’s camera was often static, framing his characters as subjects in Renaissance paintings, Bertolucci moved his camera constantly. His was an exuberant cinema, pivoted around visualizations of intense emotional states. Before the Revolution further extended this approach, where the protagonist’s vacillation between political engagement and his restrictive middle-class upbringing was dramatized in images of powerful lyricism. Partner was his first film in colour; it featured Pierre Clementi in a tour-de-force performance which anticipates his collaboration with Marlon Brando. The film was made in 1968, the year in which student protests broke out in different parts of the world. Like the characters of his first films, Bertolucci was a youthful Marxist, one especially attuned to the often schismatic relationship between ideology and personal character. The films which followed probed deeper into these internal schisms, inspired in part by Bertolucci’s experience with psychoanalysis.