The Dreamers is caught between the reality and the reverie of Paris’ violent student uprisings during the spring of 1968.
Director Bernardo Bertolucci focuses on the personal rather than the political aspects of the protests by painting an intimate and erotic portrait of his three young protagonists.
They represent the era’s innocent idealism and indulge in the 60’s favourite flavours; sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and most importantly, cinema.
The film’s crystalline dialogue, adapted by Gilbert Adair from his aptly named novel The Holy Innocents, also lends a wicked edge to his characters.
Matthew, the film’s narrator, is the proverbial American in Paris. He, along with most young Parisians of the day, worships at the City of Lights brightest temple; la Cinmatque Franaise from which both the film’s love story and tumultuous setting sprout.
Here he meets twins and fellow cinephiles, Isabelle and Theo, who invite him for dinner (and eventually more) at their vacationing parent’s baroque apartment.
Isabelle, an alluring ingnue, and Theo, a brooding but equally beautiful counterpart, are impressively portrayed by newcomer Eva Green and Louis Garrel.
Completing their decadent love triangle is Michael Pitt, whose generous pout comes in handy as the nave tranger, Matthew.
Their earnest intensity and passionate philosophies could be easily written off as youthful flippancy, such as Theo comparing Mao to a director of a great epic with millions of extras. But the actors manage to be young, beautiful and blas, without being overly precious.
The twins are an intriguing and exotic pair who literally charm the pants off our impressionable American by inviting him to join their games of cinematic obsession and sexual experimentation.
In one scene, the three read with fervor that “the camera is like a peeping tom, a voyeur.” Old movie stills pulse throughout the film like lost love letters or clues to the trio’s fanatical film trivia quizzes.
One wrong answer and a participant must succumb to a “forfeit.”
In Theo’s case, this requires masturbating in front of a Marlene Dietrich poster at the insistence of his sister, while for Matthew this means makin’ bacon with Isabelle on the kitchen floor, as Theo fries eggs for breakfast.
Alas, this erotic utopia cannot last forever.
The once opulent apartment deteriorates into a claustrophobic hothouse, reflecting the dreamer’s deflowering minds and loose morals. Homoerotic and incestuous undertones remain in the steamy shadows, but Matthew’s apprehension and jealousy of the twin’s impenetrable bond begins to surface. “I really love you,” he declares to Isabelle, quickly adding, “both of you.”
Meanwhile the streets below are ablaze with protests and the escapists are starting to feel the heat.
As Matthew and Theo languidly lounge in the bath they accuse each other of evading their separate responsibilities.
Matthew’s dodging the Vietnam War and Theo’s avoiding the revolution reverberating throughout Paris.
The streets eventually invite themselves in.
A stone that shatters the window literally awakens the dreamers from their self-exile and forces them to confront the movement at their doorstep.
With this you feel Bertolucci’s hesitation at letting the outside world intrude on his cocoon. The Dreamers is his nostalgic love letter to the “Holy Innocents” for being young and in love; with themselves, each other and cinema itself.
The Dreamers is playing at AMC and Cinma du Parc.