Dreamers, The (2003)

Review #1,372

Director:  Bernardo Bertolucci
Cast:  Michael Pitt, Louis Garrel, Eva Green
Plot:  A young American studying in Paris in 1968 strikes up a friendship with a French brother and sister.  Set against the background of the '68 Paris student riots.

Genre:  Drama / Romance
Awards:  -
Runtime:  115min
Rating:  R21 (cut!) for explicit sexual content.
International Sales:  HanWay Films

This review is based on my viewing of the original uncut version.

“I don't want to be loved very much, I just want to be loved.”

In The Dreamers, the three main characters play a game testing their knowledge of cinema.  One of them describes a scene, and the other two have to guess which film it comes from.  Of course they fail and have to perform a forfeit: to have sex with each other.  It is quite literally the screen representation of every sexually repressed (male) cinephile’s wet dream. 

Bernardo Bertolucci, in his 15th film, has concocted a mesmerising erotic drama centering on Isabelle and Theo, two French incestuous siblings played by Eva Green (in her feature debut at age 23) and Louis Garrel respectively, who befriends Matthew (Michael Pitt), an American studying in Paris at the height of the ‘68 student riots.  The introverted Matthew emboldens in the company of the wild duo, bonded by a passionate love for cinema, and later experiencing a powerful sense of sexual awakening as he finds himself falling in love with Isabelle. 

The trio gives bold performances, in particular Green who is completely nonchalant about screen nudity.  In many scenes, we see them shedding their clothes, exploring each other’s bodies and their sexuality.  Sex in cinema has always been a potent combination for disgust and ecstasy, and Bertolucci, having made one of the most controversial films in history—Last Tango in Paris (1972)—is no stranger. 

The Dreamers, less controversial but no less explicit, is stylishly directed with a strong visual style, accompanied by a string of thoughtful and invigorating music selections ranging from film music e.g. The 400 Blows (1959) by Jean Constantin, to songs by Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and The Doors. 

From a larger historical context, Bertolucci’s work is a confluence of politics, sex and cinema, painting with a broad brushstroke both the liberalisation of attitudes towards sexuality in the West in the ‘60s, as well as the social revolution against capitalism, consumerism and the establishment by youths and workers which, in the case of France, culminated in the May ’68 riots. 

There’s intercutting of footage from older films with present scenes in The Dreamers.  A superlative example of this is the sequence where the trio recreates the infamous race through the Louvre, as seen in Godard’s Band of Outsiders (1964).  This commingling of past with present, and screen fantasy with historical memory is perhaps the most fascinating facet of Bertolucci’s film. 

While it doesn’t go deep into its subject matter like some of his greatest films such as The Conformist (1970) and The Last Emperor (1987), The Dreamers manages to pull through with a fine balance of homage, titillation and love for its characters. 

Verdict:  The confluence of politics, sex and cinema is on display in this stylish erotic drama by Bertolucci.


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