At the outset of his career, Bernardo Bertolucci toiled in the shadows of monumental Italian directors like Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini, though Bertolucci's early films were more warmly embraced by the French, who saw echoes of their own New Wave in his restless camera, lively location shooting, and simple, personal stories. He fell in with the Cinémathèque/Cahiers Du Cinema crowd just as Europe exploded with anti-authoritarian youth protests, and as filmmakers were challenging each other to make movies that espoused the ideals of the revolution through aesthetics as well as content. Bertolucci responded in 1968 with Partner, based loosely on Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Double, about a drama teacher whose ambitions are upset when his doppelgänger starts urging him to advance his commitment to the cause from mere political theater to real bombs.
Partner bears the unmistakable influence of Jean-Luc Godard right from its opening credits, which play over disjointed snippets of Ennio Morricone's score. Bertolucci approaches the filmmaking playfully, toying with sound design and lighting—absurdly large shadows appear in more than one scene—and shooting tongue-in-cheek homages to Sergei Eisenstein and TV soap commercials. There's some Luis Buñuel-style satirical surrealism as well, most obviously in the scene where hero Pierre Clémenti and his girlfriend sit in the back of a motionless car while their driver makes "vroom vroom" noises. The point of all the game-playing and sloganeering isn't clear, but for every excruciating moment where Clémenti repeats, "Let's throw the masks away!" with mounting anxiety, there are just as many striking moments like the one where the two Clémentis debate each other while maneuvering around stacks of books. Like the best Godard films, Partner gives a sense of what it's like to be a young, politically active cineaste, living every moment as if it were a movie.
NoShame's typically well-packaged double-disc edition of Partner (which includes a Bertolucci interview and Edoardo Bruno's simpatico feature film His Day Of Glory) is being released at the same time as the company's double-disc DVD of the 1969 anthology film Love And Anger, which features shorts by Bertolucci and Godard. Godard's contribution is very much in his Weekend/Sympathy For The Devil mode: it's a visually dynamic, thoughtful, but ultimately dry dissection of movie romance, with two intellectuals watching a couple make love and commenting on whether it's worth their time. Meanwhile, Bertolucci gives his segment over to Julian Beck's Living Theater, which acts out the fears of a dying man with improvisatory "truth games," while Bertolucci stays back, bewitched by the ritual. Already, Godard was becoming disenchanted with the limitations of cinema, while Bertolucci was starting to find meaning in our common frailty.
But the best film in Love And Anger belongs to Carlo Lizzani and his New York City-set ode to human callousness, built around people who ignore cries for help. It's a heavy-handed but legitimately gripping piece, with striking location footage and no line of dialogue as head-thumping as Godard's "If we analyze Vietnam's loneliness, we fall into distress." Cinema may have needed this period of political unrest and reckless experimentation, which produced some work of real brilliance, but Lizzani aside, Love And Anger and Partner induce reactions more along the lines of "that's interesting" than "I'd like to see that again."