The good stuff
Worthy but flawed
One of Bertolucci's earliest films. I must say it's quite impressive to see a film like this made by someone who was only 22 at the time. Bertolucci leaves the Italian neorealism behind (a happy surprise), instead Before the Revolution seems to be taking notes from the French New Wave, a movement much closer to my liking.
When I think classic Italian cinema, I think films that are quite loud, nervous and chaotic. There's almost none of that here. The cinematography is very stylish, the soundtrack is surprisingly beautiful and the performances are relatively subdued, what makes for a pleasant, moody atmosphere.
I will say that the first half is noticeable better than the second one. It gets more overtly political near the end, which is where the film lost some of its appeal for me. By then I was already more than content to have seen a rather calm, breezy and stylish film with a handful of memorable moments. That's more than I expected going in.
Leave it to the Italians to make an English-language film about the last Chinese emperor. I'm not sure what Bertolucci was thinking, but it puts a serious damper on the fun. Worse than that still is the looming shadow of Yimou Zhang that hangs above this film. It's difficult to enjoy its visual beauty when it doesn't really compare to what Zhang might've done with it.
The film details the life of the last emperor of China, from the day he rose to power, to his involvement in the Japanese takeover of Manchuria and his imprisonment afterwards. It's not the most historically correct adaptation of his life, then again there's a reason why Bertolucci had so much freedom shooting his film on location.
This feels like a Hollywood production in almost every way. It's an epic tale for sure, but the not-quite-there cinematography, the ill-fitting soundtrack and the English language all increase the disconnect with what is supposed to be a film about China. It's certainly not all bad, but not at all what it should've been.
I didn't know much about Last Tango in Paris going in, which is probably the best way to tackle a film like this. It's not one of Bertolucci's most famous films, but certainly one of his most revered ones. I assume the impact on release played a big part in that, by modern standards it's a bit tame I'm afraid.
A middle-aged man whose wife just killed herself and a young girl ready to start her life hook up with each other. Both aren't looking for a romantic relationship, instead they need each other to escape from reality. It's a decent setup, but there isn't much more to it than that. Bertolucci simply explores the relationship between these two.
Schneider and Brando aren't really fit for their parts. Schneider feels ill at easy, Brando's emotional outbursts are borderline embarrassing. That immediately kills the film, as a lot hinges on the appeal and/or intrigue of their characters, which never materializes. The cinematography and score aren't that interesting either and the pacing is slow, but at least the Parisian atmosphere gave the film a little flair.