An introverted teenager (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) tells his parents he going on a ski trip, but instead spends his time alone in a basement.

Back to basics for Bertolucci.

AUSTRALIAN CENTRE FOR THE MOVING IMAGE: It’s hard to know what anyone could definitively expect from Bernardo Bertolucci at this point in a storied, but increasingly quiet, career. The revered Italian filmmaker, who made the psychology of sexual obsession a cornerstone of his outlook, is 73-years-old now, which means that his body of work stretches back through decades to include Stealing Beauty in 1996, Last Tango in Paris in 1972, The Last Emperor in 1987, 1900 in 1976, and The Sheltering Sky in 1990. Another, more daunting, way to consider the breadth of his work is to note that he made 1970’s The Conformist, his undeniable masterpiece, when he was still in his twenties.

a small but pleasingly nuanced two hander

Me and You, a small but pleasingly nuanced two hander set in Rome, is Bertolucci’s first feature in nine years; he’s managed to move beyond both the back problems and failed surgery that have left him a wheelchair and the dangerous combination of sexual precocity and nostalgia that made his last feature, 2003’s The Dreamers, such a disappointing journey into the past. Adapted from Niccolo Ammaniti’s novel by the author, Bertolucci, and several other collaborators, Me and You scales down expectations, almost suggesting a back-to-basics mentality after the epic works – both geographically and emotionally – of his career’s international years.

Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) is a 14-year-old who lives with his divorced mother (Sonia Bergamasco). 'Our son is so narcissistic he doesn’t need anyone," she tells the boy’s unseen father, offering feedback from Lorenzo’s psychiatrist (Pippo Delbono) as the subject lurks in the shadows. With his wispy efforts at a moustache, explosion of dark hair and predilection for listening to The Cure, Lorenzo is unaffected about being disaffected, and when he has a week-long school skiing trip scheduled he pretends to depart and then hides, with supplies and laptop, in his apartment building’s labyrinthine basement storage space.

Bertolucci’s camera stays close to Lorenzo but it doesn’t intrude, instead studying his secluded contentment. Whether these notes from the underground are a vigil or some kind of test is unclear, but the movie changes course with the arrival of Olivia (Tea Falco), Lorenzo’s father’s daughter from another marriage, who has nowhere to sleep and soon no way to hide the effects of coming off heroin. Familial intimacy and drug addiction were at the centre of 1979’s La Luna, but here the outcomes aren’t grandly dramatic. Lorenzo knows little of the world, Olivia too much and the mood between them ebbs and lunges as they get each other’s measure.

The vitality of youth, whether glorious or self-destructive, has intermittently fascinated Bertolucci, but the film’s considered tone and offhand technique combine to avert leaps into the unknown. Days pass, realisation come and the half brother and sister eventually move on, their impact on each other subtly indicated. 'It’s time to get a life," Olivia tells Lorenzo, but with Me and You Bernardo Bertolucci reminds us that he’s still making good use of his.