Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci enters the living room of his Rome apartment through a door that had been in New York’s now-defunct New Yorker Theater, the legendary mecca for film buffs where his “Before the Revolution” screened in 1965, when he was 24.
Wheelchair-bound due to a back injury, a white cat sitting on his lap, the 74-year-old helmer asks his assistant to turn off the 4K projector beaming images on the wall, and begins to speak about his latest film, “Me and You,” as well as to muse on his lingering desire to work in 3D.
The maestro’s first feature since 2004’s “The Dreamers,” “Me and You” (Io e te) — also Bertolucci’s first Italian-language film in 32 years — debuted in Cannes in 2012 to mixed reviews; in 2012, it made a strong $2 million-plus in Italy and played in key markets in Europe. The film opened in New York on July 4 via niche distrib Emerging Pictures.
The intimate coming-of-age drama is based on a short novel by Niccolo Ammaniti, in which a teenage boy connects with his older half-sister, whom he’s never seen before. Bertolucci loved the book, but changed the ending. “I don’t like the fact that the character of the sister, who is a heroin addict, dies. Because in all movies and books that talk about addiction, the addict is punished and dies,” he explains.
He also made the brother-sister rapport more intimate, but says he was
very careful about not pushing it toward an intimacy that would seem incestuous. Some people told him they were disappointed he didn’t go there. But he doesn’t care.
“I make movies in order to make things understood, not to be shocking,” notes the director, whose “Last Tango in Paris” is iconic for, among other things, pushing the envelope in portraying sex onscreen.
Bertolucci shot “Me and You” in a big basement — actually the studio of Italian artist Sandro Chia — in Rome’s Trastevere quarter, right around the corner from his ground-floor residence.
The film initially was supposed to be shot in 3D, but after doing tests at Cinecitta studios, Bertolucci realized shooting in the format would mean waits of two or three hours between each change in camera position.
“I change camera positions all the time,” he says. “At the beginning of the ’80s, I used to say: ‘Camera positions are in a way like the positions of an imaginary Kama Sutra.’ Of course, I called it Camera Sutra.”
Still, the director has an itch to make an experimental 3D pic, perhaps following in the footsteps of his mentor, Jean-Luc Godard, though Bertolucci has yet to see Godard’s 3D “Goodbye to Language,” which debuted at the recent Cannes film festival.
“I have been toying with the idea to make what I am calling a Kammerspiele-Kolossal, inspired by the silent expressionist German movies of the 1920s,” he says. “It could be a story that I compress into a chamber drama. It’s just an idea. But if I do it, I think I will do it in 3D.”
He’s already had experience with the format — his 1987 epic “The Last Emperor” was recently converted into 3D, and played in 2013 in Cannes, as well as other festivals. The debut of the 3D conversion brought Bertolucci, who spent time in L.A. after “Emperor” won nine Oscars in 1988, back to Hollywood, reconnecting with friends including the late Paul Mazursky and Mel Brooks, an experience he relished.
“It was a group of friends between 80 and 85, survivors with a smile, who meet every Friday for lunch, some fierce gossip, and also to tell some fantastic jokes,” he recounts. “I really had this feeling of the great Hollywood of the past; I had so much fun. It made me understand so many things about American cinema.”