A version of Space Oddity was commissioned for the Italian market and released in early 1970. Instead of the original lyrics, this is a love story about a young couple that meet on the top of a mountain, “Ragazzo solo, ragazza sola” meaning “Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl”. David Bowie recorded the Italian vocal on 20 December 1969.
The song was a beautiful part of Bernardo Bertolucci’s film Io E Te (Me and You), a study of youth, but a study of the kind of antisocial youth’s dissociation that either a) not a lot of people experienced, or b) they don’t want to admit they’ve experienced, or c) they’ve blocked it out of their memory and could only remember experiencing it under hypnosis. In any case, it’s the kind that David Bowie could clearly identify with.
You know that expression, “It takes one to know one”? Unfortunately, I get it all too well, and it didn’t take hypnosis for me to identify with Lorenzo, the boy who hid out in his basement instead of going on the school ski trip.
It’s a brilliant plan for a boy who wants nothing more than to be left alone. His mom sends a bunch of money with him to school so that he can go skiing with his class, the teacher says, “If I don’t get your money by tomorrow you’re not going”, and the kid pockets the money and buys a bunch of snack items for his own little adventure. Since Lorenzo doesn’t acknowledge how dangerously alienated he’s become from everyone in his life, you have to look for clues, and they aren’t hard find. The opening scene is a stare down in his psychologist’s office. His pre-“ski trip” dinner with his mom shows the quiet contempt he has for her as he jovially says the most horrible things he can think of. Is he a sexual deviant? Maybe, but it’s more likely that one of his hobbies is making her squirm.
So he throws his snowboard over his shoulder and heads for the family’s storage room, in the basement of their apartment building, instead of on the bus with his classmates. He couldn’t be more content until he gets a visitor; his heroin addicted half-sister Olivia arrives in search of jewelry to sell. She doesn’t stop upstairs to visit her stepmother, because she hasn’t been welcome up there since Olivia threw a rock at Lorenzo’s mom and sent her to the emergency room. She doesn’t just need the necklace, she needs a place to detox and a nurse, and she’s too sick and too self-centered to care that it’s going to have to be a 14-year-old brother that she barely knows.
But Olivia came for the jewelry and not for the family. She has no family. Lorenzo’s not exactly a brother and not her friend, and she may never see him again. But for a week in a dingy basement, they make a connection that will change them both.
This is no “feel good” after school special. This is the seedy side of childhood. This is a worst case scenario for the disconnect between terrible parents and their neglected kids. But lucky for Lorenzo, his sister has some advice that his psychologist, on his best day, couldn’t have offered him.
Bernardo Bertolucci has gotten everything right. The isolated kids, the sparse dialogue and the crappy basement all are perhaps a little too real for comfort. Nothing in this film is a throwaway; nothing lacks meaning. Every word is important, and as I think of them I want to watch Io E Te again.