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Before the Revolution (1964): Politics, Inspiration, and Identity

Unraveling the layers of “Before the Revolution”, one quickly stumbles upon an enigmatic confluence of politics, inspiration, and personal identity. This early masterpiece from Bernardo Bertolucci is not merely a film; it is a reflection of the political atmosphere and intellectual zeitgeist of its time, a tribute to the power of French New Wave cinema, and an exploration of the director’s own struggles and ideals.

Before the Revolution

1. Before the Revolution: French New Wave and the Sweetness of Living

The film takes its title from a quote by Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord: “He who has not lived in the years before the revolution cannot understand what the sweetness of living is.” This line encapsulates the film’s exploration of pre-revolutionary fervor and its consequent disarray, embodying Bertolucci’s central theme.

French New Wave and the Sweetness of Living

French New Wave cinema, with its focus on experimental storytelling and stylistic innovations, heavily influenced “Before the Revolution.” Bertolucci’s admiration for filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard is palpable throughout the film. The restless camera work, daring jump cuts, and often disorienting narrative structure echo Godard’s iconoclastic style, making “Before the Revolution” a homage to this influential movement.

2. A Distinctive Blend: French New Wave, Italian Setting, and Political Ideals

Bertolucci didn’t merely emulate French New Wave; he applied its techniques to a uniquely Italian setting and narrative, creating a distinctive masterpiece. Through this, he could channel his appreciation for Godard’s work while making a statement that was uniquely his own.

The Political Landscape and Bertolucci’s Marxism

A committed Marxist at the time, Bertolucci infused “Before the Revolution” with his political ideals and struggles, embodied by the protagonist, Fabrizio. His character’s torn nature between bourgeois upbringing and revolutionary leanings echoes the greater sociopolitical discord in Italy during the 1960s. This personal political journey is mirrored in Fabrizio’s struggle, making the character a living representation of the director himself.

3. Political Background

The political background painted by Bertolucci is unromanticized, grappling with revolutionary fervor, the intricacies of Marxist ideology, and the disillusionment that often follows radical change. Through Fabrizio, Bertolucci asks probing questions about revolution and resistance, sacrifice and survival, and ideological purity against societal structures.

4. A Partnership for the Ages: Bertolucci and Storaro

One of the most significant aspects of “Before the Revolution” lies in the creative alliance between Bernardo Bertolucci and acclaimed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. More than a mere collaboration, this partnership led to visual narratives unlike anything cinema had seen before.

A Partnership for the Ages: Bertolucci and Storaro

Storaro’s contribution amplified the film’s themes, enhancing its emotional resonance. This director-cinematographer relationship continued to shape future works, including iconic films like “The Conformist” and “Last Tango in Paris.” “Before the Revolution” was the genesis of one of cinema’s most enduring partnerships.

5. Contending with Censors: The Unspoken Struggles

“Before the Revolution” faced challenges from censors, as did many films of the era that delved into political and social issues. However, Bertolucci remained committed to his vision, using cinematic language to navigate censorship without compromising his artistic and political integrity.

Contending with Censors: The Unspoken Struggles

6. A Novel Influence: The Shadows of Stendhal

The influence of Stendhal’s novel “The Charterhouse of Parma” manifests in the complex narrative and character development of the film. The blend of literary richness and cinematic innovation enhances the film’s thematic depth.

Reception Through the Ages: From Mixed Reviews to Masterpiece

Upon its release, “Before the Revolution” divided critics, with some praising its innovation while others found it overly intellectual. Over time, it has been reevaluated and appreciated for its boldness and profound commentary.

conflicting opinions

Personal Reverberations: Bertolucci in Fabrizio

The film extends into the personal realm of Bertolucci himself, reflecting his influences, struggles, and intellectual explorations. It’s a product of personal experiences, literary inspirations, and political convictions—a testament to Bertolucci’s genius.

To understand “Before the Revolution” is to understand Bertolucci, a man who channeled his personal experiences into a cinematic masterpiece that resonates even half a century later.


“Before the Revolution” is a transcendent work of art that continues to resonate. From its literary roots to bold political commentary, innovative cinematic techniques, and groundbreaking collaboration, it’s a testament to the power of cinema. The film’s magic lies in its intimate exploration of human emotions, skillfully woven into a broader narrative.

Whether a seasoned cinephile or casual viewer, we encourage you to watch or revisit “Before the Revolution.” You’ll find yourself captivated by its powerful narrative, innovative style, and timeless themes.

In conclusion, “Before the Revolution” is an intellectual exploration, a political statement, a personal confession, and a timeless piece of cinematic art. By watching it, you engage with a crucial chapter of Italian cinematic history. Prepare for a journey of revolution—before and beyond—and experience the sweetness of living that Bertolucci so masterfully portrays.

Bernardo Bertolucci
Bernardo Bertolucci was an Italian film director and screenwriter. He was born on March 16, 1941, in Parma, Italy, and passed away on November 26, 2018. Bertolucci was known for his innovative and visually striking filmmaking style. He gained international recognition for directing films such as "The Conformist," "Last Tango in Paris," "1900," "The Last Emperor," and "The Dreamers." "The Last Emperor" won nine Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture, solidifying Bertolucci's status as a prominent figure in world cinema. Bertolucci was celebrated for his exploration of complex themes, psychological depth, and his ability to push cinematic boundaries. His films often tackled political, social, and existential issues, and his storytelling was marked by intricate character development and rich visual aesthetics. Throughout his career, Bernardo Bertolucci left an indelible mark on cinema with his unique artistic vision and contributions to the art of filmmaking.

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