The split between bourgeois repose and active radicalism that tailgates Bernardo Bertolucci's protagonist in Before the Revolution is literalized in this Nouvelle Vague jamboree, his third and most mystifying feature film, made, incidentally, during the revolution -- May '68. Pierre Clémenti plays the young hero, a fervid theater teacher laboring to get his ideas out into the streets, and his own doppelganger, who materializes into his room one night and feeds upon his hosts' spilling-over anxiety. A human pogo stick, Clémenti is a bundle of tensions who mimics Nosferatu, spins a one-man tango, and crows like a rooster, yet whose shotgun energy bellies an essential political paralysis -- walled behind columns of books, he wears ear plugs to read at a café as agitators plaster "Vietnam Libero" posters outside. His double should help bring out the action of his dogma, but the union of the two halves accentuates rather than soothes the turmoil. Loosely based on Dostoevsky's The Double, the film is a stream of audacious conceptions flowing freely, exuberantly out of Bertolucci, unburdoned by logic or coherence. Wacky bits abound: the hero shadowboxes on the side of a building until the looming shadow boxes back; the grandiose romanticism of the elopement with his fiancée (Stefania Sandrelli) is deconstructed via the motionless getaway drive, with the lovebirds petting in the back while Clémenti's aged driver mouths vroom-vroom sounds; a bovine chick (Tina Aumont) shills "Splash" detergent and ends up throttled amid overflowing suds. Throughout, Bertolucci is chasing a doppelganger of his own: Godard, whose influence on the director has always been as oppressive as it is inescapable. In that sense, the movie is a creative purge job, a get-out-of-my-system work whose personal enquiry never excludes the joys of slapstick experimentation. Cinematography by Ugo Piccone. Music by Ennio Morricone.
--- Fernando F. Croce