"The Dreamers"
Director: Bernardo Bettolucci


Patricia Ducey

The Dreamers is Bernardo Bertolucci’s valentine to the ‘60s, a time when both he and the world were young. The veteran Italian filmmaker (Last Tango in Paris, Besieged) sets his story in Paris in 1968, just before a series of protests and strikes that electrified the world. Matthew (Michael Pitt), a visiting American student, gets swept up into the heady currents of politics and art and sexual freedom and narrates the story from a point not too far into his future. An unabashed cinephile as well as language student, he religiously attends the weekly museum screening of American and Nouvelle Vague films and there meets fellow film lovers, Theo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green). He and the brother and sister become fast friends, in love with the beautiful films on the silver screen and the intoxicating politics and protests outside. We get to watch clips from some glorious films by Godard, Truffaut and Fuller as we follow the three film buffs running around Paris re-enacting scenes from their favorites. It must be said that in the ‘60s, before videotapes and DVDs allowed unlimited access to film, before the plethora of film schools and screenwriting classes, watching classic cinema was indeed a shared communal ritual and rite of passage– everyone of a certain age, for instance, can remember the first time they sat in the dark auditorium at Whatever U. and saw Tod Browning’s Freaks.

Unfortunately, Bertolucci sees the era through a pair of rose-colored bifocals. The photography, music and actors are all luscious; early scenes of Paris, the film clips and the goofy ‘60s talk is delightful, but Bertolucci suddenly switches gears from the political story to the personal. Theo and Isabelle’s parents depart on a country holiday and leave the kids alone in their apartment, with ample supplies of food, a well-stocked wine cellar, and a couple of blank checks. It’s party time, and the film stays inside for the remainder of the film, perhaps because that’s the one place Bertolucci can keep the characters almost continuously naked. He drops hints at incest here and there, between Isabelle and her father, between Isabelle and Theo, between Theo and Matthew –- no, that wouldn’t be -– oh, it’s all quite dizzying -- but the hints go nowhere and the sex becomes a finally wearying gesture, the smirky equivalent of a French postcard. Were the students just neurotic bystanders, or were they part of a generational sea change? Bertolucci doesn’t tell us.

The parents (finally!) come home to find their three charges fast asleep in a wine and hash induced stupor, naked limbs twisted rapturously around each other. Do they hit the ceiling and start yelling about the mess and the missing money and get the story moving again? No, they do not wish to wake the Sleeping Beauties and so tiptoe quietly back to their holiday. Mon dieu, if only I knew of such parents as these I would move in.

Ultimately, Bertolucci only suggests psychosexual complexities because he cannot or will not explain what this personal drama has to do with the burgeoning political revolution outside, which would have been an interesting albeit more difficult movie to make.

Finally, an errant rock from the angry street below shatters the apartment window and sails into their living room. Time to wake up. With only a few minutes remaining, Matthew, Theo and Isabelle sober up, get dressed and flee the apartment at last to join the grand march of history outside, just beyond their limited vision.

-- Patricia Ducey

Copyright Web del Sol, 2004

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