Leave it to the French  

A review of The Dreamers

click to enlarge Michael Pitt and Eva Green of  The Dreamers.
  • Michael Pitt and Eva Green of The Dreamers.

The Dreamers (NC-17)
Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Dreamers is one of those Parisian sex films. You know the French: theyre soooo into sex. We Americans prefer violence for some reason that still befuddles me. I mean, Mel Gibson makes a movie about a Jew getting sadistically beaten for 12 hours before hes ritually murdered, and the Christians line up with their children! Then a far greater filmmaker, Bernardo Bertolucci, makes a sensual coming-of-age movie with a wee bit of kink and plenty of gorgeously filmed full frontal nudity (both male and female) and he gets an NC-17 rating, the equivalent of soft-core porn. Go figure. I guess its like Janet Jacksons boobgate: men pummeling each other can be a national pastime, but dont remind them that they likely spent the first months of their lives suckling of one of those those nipples! The French, after all, were probably too busy having sex to support the war in Iraq.

Set in Paris in the spring of 1968 right before the infamous student uprisings in May, The Dreamers follows Matthew (the beautiful Michael Pitt of Hedwig and the Angry Inch), a young American film aficionado in Paris to study French. He becomes a regular at the Cinmatheque Franais where throngs of chain-smoking young Parisians soak up the fresh images of French New Wave cinema. After the Cinmatheque is shut down by the police, Matthew is swept up by Theo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green), twins with a very intimate relationship who invite Matthew to come stay with them in their parents apartment while their beleaguered poet father heads off to the country with their mum.

Filled with books, murky shadows and lots of dirty secrets, the apartment becomes the backdrop for the trios sequestered adventures in sex, theoretical politics and endless discussions and reenactments of film history. Clips of films like Freaks, Breathless, and Shock Corridor are frequently interspersed with the trios interactions to emphasize the point that they are more concerned with the tidy life of art and books than they are with the messy political realities erupting in the streets outside. Matthew and Theo debate the merits of Jimmy Hendrix vs. Eric Clapton in the context of the Vietnam War, for example, as the three soak in a bubble bath. They are concerned, but bourgeois.

While the films script is flawed and riddled with a Screenwriting 101 pretentiousness, this seems to be part of Bertoluccis point. Unlike Marlon Brandos ber-jaded character, Paul, in Bertoluccis Last Tango in Paris (a film given an X rating for its sexual content when it was released in 1972), Matthew is an innocent abroad, and is meant to mirror the naive political ideals of that crucial moment of global social revolution. For this, Matthew and his cohorts can be forgiven.

Bertolucci, on the other hand, could have done better. The sex seems unduly voyeuristic, intended to shock and arouse in ways that it doesnt. Again, its obvious Bertoluccis aware of it, but it doesnt move the film forward. Think Henry and June, but less articulate and more annoying in a Little Buddha sort of way.

Sex on celluloid, whether its set in Paris or not, is probably best left to the French directors, and if you want to see it handled with truly remarkable aplomb, check out Francois Ozons Water Drops on Burning Rocks and Swimming Pool or Gaspar Noes I Stand Alone and Irreversible. Kimball's Twin Peak

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