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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 36.84%
Average: 12.28%
Pretty Bad: 3.51%
Total Crap: 1.75%

5 reviews, 27 user ratings

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Dreamers, The
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by Collin Souter

"Call me old fashioned, but I prefer the original version of Trivial Pursuit"
4 stars

Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” comes from the heart of a cinephile as it conjures up a part of the past that only gets a brief passing sentence or two from film scholars and historians. It takes place in France during 1968, a time of turbulence similar to the United States when college kids took to the streets and rioted in protest against the system. The movie opens as the French minister of culture Andre Malraux has just tried to oust Henri Langlois, the founder of a legendary Cinematheque. French cinephiles vehemently protest. Within the chaos are three film enthusiasts whose lives will change more inertly, but just as drastically as the revolution that will eventually ensue on the streets of France.

All of this gets presented in a wonderful opening sequence in which American Matthew (Michael Pitt of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) explains in voice-over the importance cinema played in the lives of artists everywhere in France. Considering the French New Wave was a cinematic and artistic rebellion of sorts in the world of cinema, it only makes sense that a revolution would work its way onto the streets. But once these three characters meet, the anger gets pushed aside, only to work its way here and there into the cracks of the story.

The story that gets told in “The Dreamers” is of Matthew, a student of privilege bumming around France while his countrymen overseas get shipped to Vietnam, a war he believes they want to fight. Soon, he meets twins Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel) who share his passion for cinema and even engage in serious debates over who really holds the title Master of American Comedy: Chaplin or Keaton? (Harold Lloyd’s films remained in a vault at this period of time) Isabelle and Theo like to play movie games like “Guess this scene.” The loser, on a time limit, has to suffer humiliation through a sexual act, something I prefer not to give away.

Isabelle and Theo’s relationship as siblings grows more complex and freakish to Matthew. His attraction grows deeper towards Isabelle even though she and her brother want Matthew to engage in deviant sexual acts with both of them. All of this takes place after their artsy parents leave them home alone with limited funds and a cellar full of wine as a means of survival. Eventually, money runs out and Matthew warms up to their open sexuality. Soon the three lounge around the house completely naked without giving it a second thought.

But Matthew, thankfully, has his limits. When one act of sexuality gets to be too much for him, he takes a stand and asks Isabelle the question that begs asking: “Have you ever just gone out on a date?” At this point, the story of “The Dreamers” becomes clearer. Matthew dreams he can save these two from themselves and their past, both as siblings, lovers and fighters. Isabelle dreams she can be a faithful sibling as well as Matthew’s great love. Theo dreams of a better world without actually taking to the streets in protest. The tragedy of these beliefs lies in the film’s title.

“The Dreamers” invites inevitable comparison to Bertolucci’s “The Last Tango In Paris,” a movie I haven’t seen in probably 12-15 years. It has been thirty years since that monumental film and Bertolucci has not lost the ability to conjure up unforgettable erotic images. When Isabelle poses as a famous statue in order to arouse Matthew, it not only makes for beautiful imagery, but it screams volumes about her character and her doomed fate, completely powerless to stop it. Another great shot in “The Dreamers” (a movie filled with hypnotic images) is one of a theater full of people watching a musical, their heads swaying to the rhythm of the tunes. Only once in “The Dreamers” does Bertolucci settle on a cheap sight gag for emphasis (has to do with eggs).

In the film’s early stages, Bertolucci splices in clips of classic films as the characters reference them in the dialogue and even when Bertolucci and cinematographer Fabio Cianchetti references them with the images within the story. At first, I thought this device would be the film’s downfall, especially when I actually recognized some of the clips. A lesser director would have utilized this device and called it “homage,” without coming up with unforgettable images of their own. But Bertolucci lets the device slide away for a long period of time and, thankfully, ends up making his movie, which, even without the clips, perfectly captures the feeling of a French New Wave classic. In fact, the “Jules and Jim” and "Bande a Part" overtones run rampant at times.

The three leads do great work. As Mathew, Michael Pitt exudes intensity, longing and even a hint of naiveté while also serving as the film’s voice of reason against the unreasonable. As Isabelle, Eva Green turns in a fearless and heartbreaking performance as a lost soul who is too far gone to think of herself as anything other than a companion piece to her brother. And as Theo, Louis Garrel hardly ever makes obvious choices as the protective and obsessive brother to Isabelle. His confusion over his love for these two people resonates clearly and with great sympathy.

The story that doesn’t get told in “The Dreamers” is of how Isabelle and Theo got so messed up to begin with. This is a wise choice on Bertolucci’s part. He shies away from a simple Freudian explanation and instead lets that part of the story linger. Their parents—an English mother and a famous novelist father—have clearly neglected to raise their kids. Glimpses and hints of Theo and Isabelle’s upbringing surface here and there, but bare complexities too deep to warrant blatant explanation in one or two scenes. It would have to be a whole other movie unto itself.

Instead, “The Dreamers” should be taken as a simple coming of age film that successfully captures the confusing time in one’s life when you realize you can’t save everyone, especially from themselves. The final images of Bertolucci’s film will likely leave some questions, many of which will probably pertain to the characters’ overall outcomes. Like the riots that would eventually ensue on the streets of France, the three Dreamers reach a point of no return in their lives. The screaming, fighting and violence serve more as a state of mind, an inner soundtrack to their own personal turmoil, the sort of parallel violence the movies had yet to really touch upon and, in some ways, never really can.

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originally posted: 02/16/04 16:40:02
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/13/07 al smith good movie eva greens body is amazing what a pair of tits and bush 4 stars
3/01/07 fiona provocative.....artistic...a little bit sexy too. 4 stars
12/01/06 moonsilver beautiful,fasinating, saw it twice in same night 5 stars
11/16/06 David Pollastrini a porno movie masquerading as art! 4 stars
9/01/06 William Goss Pleasant and pretentious in equal measure. Green's certainly easy on the eyes, however. 3 stars
12/02/05 brian lee best movie & awesome 5 stars
8/17/05 shibu andrews outstanding,identifying myself,purify myself, 5 stars
8/03/05 Hockeytown Frustrating waiting for youth to take a stand for something 4 stars
6/07/05 Alex St. John The Dreamers is an amazing film that touches base with many topics still present today. 5 stars
4/19/05 Danny VERY strange. Leads are good, especially Pitt. 4 stars
3/21/05 Richard Pryor mmmmm, strange movie 4 stars
1/13/05 Amy Kennedy Wonderful movie for cinephiles 5 stars
11/08/04 g s induma vary vary good move 5 stars
8/29/04 jennifer it was the best movie i have ever seen so much emotion it was awesome 5 stars
8/16/04 Patricia Davis Loved it, nearly his most accessible film. The boys are DELISH. A brave film... 5 stars
7/29/04 tatum EEK! PENISES!! Lighten up, MPAA! 4 stars
7/13/04 Elizabeth Disappointing for Bertolucci. Nudity does not equal fleshed-out characters. 2 stars
4/26/04 Eugene du Plooy Excellent - so revolutionary! 5 stars
3/31/04 john loved it 5 stars
3/29/04 Megan Casey Amazing... but not everyone could handle it. 5 stars
2/29/04 nniedzielski how could a movie with that much sex in it be so boring? 2 stars
2/29/04 Brittani artistically and visually stunning 4 stars
2/29/04 jimmy two times strange film. I relate to it even though I was born in the seventies. classic bertolucci. 4 stars
2/28/04 Delphina a fine piece of beautiful cinema 5 stars
2/23/04 david miller unAmerican...beautifully filmed 5 stars
2/22/04 Ash Eva green's body is a piece of art .I really loved the movie 5 stars
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  06-Feb-2004 (NC-17)
  DVD: 13-Jul-2004



Directed by
  Bernardo Bertolucci

Written by
  Gilbert Adair

  Michael Pitt
  Eva Green
  Louis Garrel
  Robin Renucci
  Anna Chancellor

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