A dreary, claustrophobic basement be-comes a place of respite in Me and You, Bernardo Bertolucci’s first film since 2003’s The Dreamers. Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori, looking like a pre-Proactiv Elijah Wood) is a 14-year-old misfit who isolates himself with music after the apparent split of his parents. He’s not terribly open with his therapist, and when he does speak, he asks strange questions with the rapid-fire speed of a toddler. His mother (Sonia Bergamasco) is both worried and exasperated.
So when Lorenzo agrees to go on a school ski trip, Mom’s elated, thinking he’s finally taking a positive social step. But instead he sets up a makeshift home in his apartment’s basement storage room. Lorenzo buys seven of everything he’ll need: soda, snacks, cans of whatever. His well-measured getaway is interrupted by his estranged half-sister, Olivia (Tea Falco), a photographer who first barges in to find some of her stuff, but ends up staying while she detoxes from heroin.
The majority of Me and You takes place in a subterranean room whose dusty forgotten-abouts nearly make you sneeze. Before that, however, Bertolucci’s shots are odd and exquisite: When Lorenzo and his mother are having dinner, the camera is just below the table and angled upward, so you see the characters only above mid-arm. In another scene, a fantasy of Lorenzo’s, his mom and dad are crawling above him on a glass ceiling, jovially looking for her shoes. Towering behind them is a building whose colors are muted, except for touches of neon red.
Such camerawork makes Me and You a thing of unexpected beauty, later accented by the bizarre but fascinating photos that the once up-and-coming Olivia has taken. But the relationship between Lorenzo and Olivia is lovely, too. It may be cliché to have the siblings’ interaction begin brusquely and soon turn tender, but there’s a pervasive and shared melancholy here. Both are lonely despite always being around people; both have been injured by their parents’ broken relationships. Their stories are most incisively rendered during a late-chapter slowdance to “Ragazzo solo, ragazza sola,” a song set to the music of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” but telling a different story. Its title means “Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl.” A bit obvious, perhaps. But who hasn’t ever felt compelled to retreat to a solitary place where they can’t be found? The song’s sentiment, and the film itself, is universal in its telling.