|The Dreamers (2004)
Starring: Michael Pitt, Louis Garrel, Eva Green, Robin Renucci, Anna Chancellor
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” is a lush, erotically charged tale of sexual awakening and self-discovery set in 1968 Paris. The director has chosen that date as seminal for hope, possibility, innocence and change. Michael Pitt portrays Matthew, a young American cinephile studying in Paris, who meets brother and sister, Theo and Isabelle, respectively played by Louis Garrel and Eva Green, at a street protest. Matthew moves in with the siblings when the Parisian’s parents leave for a summer holiday. “While the parents are away the kids are at play,” is the proverbial motif. Most of the film’s action is set in their flat, and Bertolucci is as accomplished as ever, as this setting in the hands of a director less skilled could become claustrophobic.
The trio discusses and debates poetry, philosophy, rock and roll and, most of all, film. Bertolucci drives home the point that this was a time when film mattered in a life or death way. The protest at which the three meet is inspired by the dismissal of the director of the French film program, and this event went on to help ignite the fires of revolution that burned in Paris that year.
Matthew, Isabelle and Theo reenact scenes from their favorite movies and play sexual truth or dare based upon their film knowledge. They engage in bonding rituals and sexual acts and push the envelope in their own sexual revolutions. Brother and sister are close and the possibility of incest is suggested. Matthew is at times welcomed into this mix and at times he draws resentment. A potentially tragic event is averted as the revolution taking place out in the Paris streets comes crashing through their window and awakens the three from their inner reverie. They are forced to take part in and confront the world beyond the womb of their flat. Bertolucci is a master filmmaker and he has exquisitely layered symbolism upon metaphor. The band of outsiders and this one Paris apartment are microcosm for the times and society at large.
The actors for the most part are all newcomers, and any lack of actorly skill is more than made up for in the appropriate awkward innocence that results from the casting. The film has been rated NC-17, to the director’s delight (see related interview), and there is nudity in abundance. While Bertolucci does not shock as he has in the past with films like “Last Tango in Paris,” he is still relevant. That he does not shock is partly due to his earlier groundwork in stretching the boundaries of cultural taboo. The point may have never been to shock, though, as naked body and naked soul may simply be the tools Bertolucci uses to express his vision -- a vision that is here luscious and provocative and important.