In its own earnest and unselfconscious way, it represents the clearest expression of the director's central theme—the intersection of the private erotic and the public political—and the young Bertolucci's willingness to experiment with and even break form—playing with editing, camera movements, and framing—is bold and ballsy. Not a perfect film, but one that everyone should see.
Some of Bertolucci's more sophisticated detractors have objected to the literalness of his stylistic borrowings from Rossellini and Fellini and Resnais and Truffaut, but this so-called "literalness" I consider a frank quotation rather than a stealthy theft. What cannot be copied from anyone is the richness and energy with which Bertolucci contemplates a life of cowardice and compromise. It is as if he were holding back a torrent of emotion by multiplying his channels of expression.
It’s not fair to look at Before the Revolution as merely part of a great director’s coming of age: the film is remarkable precisely because it at once exhibits a young director wrestling with his greatest influences and an artist already in full control of his craft.