Friday, 12 January 2007

The Dreamers (2003) - Bernardo Bertolucci



One of Bertolucci's most well-known, and most controversial films was Ultimo tango a Parigi starring Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando in a tense erotic drama set in Paris. With The Dreamers Bertolucci returns again to the French capital and again to sexual escapism, only this time with a younger cast setting the film in the middle of the 1968 student riots - one of Paris's most explosive periods of the 20th century.

Michael Pitt (who would go on to play the lead in Gus Van Sant's Last Days) leads here as a young American cinema buff, studying French in Paris for a year. In the midst of the closure of the Parisian cinematheque, Matthew (Pitt) meets brother and sister Isabelle and Theo (Louis Garrel and Eva Green respectively) forming a close-nit film-loving based menage á trois, a threesome that would like to think of themselves as the trio in Godard's Bande à part. Their walls adorned with nouvelle vague posters, playing improvisation games in which they take turns to guess which classic film is being reinacted, the three young students find themselves ever alienated from the outside world - retreating further and further into their mutual bond before they forget what is happening in the streets outside.

The most memorable feature of the film is probably the game they play, picking at random films to reenact froma variety of periods - everything from Scarface to Tophat are homaged. The affection of the characters, and indeed Bertolucci, towards cinema is not in question at all here but this affinity masks other problems. The three characters, overtly sexualised are not in touch with the outside world at all (so much so their phone gets cut off). They espouse socialist and Maoist dogma but dont understand the repercussions of what they say preferring to adopt an idealistic image of Communism as a film and Mao as the director. They quote various post-modern philosphers and poets out of misguided pretentious arrogance, evolving their own sense of self-important pseudo-intellectual idolatry. But all this talking, talking of films and reading of poetry masks the fact that they have nothing to say of their own. The brother and sister appear outwardly intimate but actually are never as close as we might suspect, an effect no doubt caused by the lack of affection they are shown (and we assume have been shown) by their bourgoise parents.

What does Bertolucci think however, of these 2 dimensional characters drifting from social strife into intellectual escapism? Not much would seemt he answer, or at least he doesn't seem particularly interested in their downfalls. The director, through sumptuous dreamlike camera movements tries to ellicit an ethos of childish hopefulness, an ignorance that perhaps masks some hope - yet he seems to forget that the protagonists' overwhelming sense of self-importance immediately makes them unlikeable. The actors are gorgeous to look at, and look beautiful in Fabio Cianchetti's orange lighting but i found myself unable to care about their petty issues. The sentiment seems empty and thus, the film as whole, has little to say about either new wave cinema or about the students that championed it. If it has anything at all to proffer in judgement then it is that the students were misguided, but this is a cruel hindsight leaning towards archetype rather than pragmatic revisionism. You can't judge a book by its cover, and you can't judeg a mass-movement by only 3 of its members with their own unique psychological problems; and it was ultimately the film's broad brush approach that turned me off in the film's explosive denoument.

Bertolucci has made a visual erotic feast in the shape of The Dreamers yet it remains nonetheless a hollow enterprise, once seen immediately forgotten. A film that more often than not, has a tendency to bask in its own glorious cinematography. 7/10

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