The Dreamers

2003, Movie, NC-17, 115 mins

Review

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Bernardo Bertolucci returns to the scene of his most memorable film, LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972), for this thoughtful and passionate meditation on eroticism, youth and cinema itself. Paris, 1968: Matthew (Michael Pitt) is a young American student who has come to France to further his education. Instead of attending classes, though, he spends most of his time watching movies at the legendary Cinematheque Francaise. On his way to yet another screening, Matthew happens upon a crowd of protestors demonstrating against the government's firing of popular Cinematheque director Henri Langlois. In the chaos, Matthew meets twins Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel), who invite their shy new friend home for dinner. Happy to have the company — and more then a little smitten with Isabelle — Matthew accepts their offer and later agrees to spend the night at their flat. That one night soon turns into one month. At first everything seems perfect: The trio lounge about all day arguing about politics, romance, and, of course, the movies. They even act out scenes from their favorite films, including the famous race through the Louvre in Godard's BAND OF OUTSIDERS (1964). But Matthew soon discovers that Isabelle and Theo share a disturbingly intimate relationship and frequently challenge each other to do shocking things. After Theo loses one of their "contests," Isabelle goads her brother into masturbating in front of her and Matthew. In retaliation, Theo dares Isabelle to have sex with their guest on the kitchen floor. Matthew tries in vain to make the twins realize the destructive influence they have on each other, but they either don't see or don't care about the consequences of their actions. When the May riots begin and the streets of Paris erupt in violence, Matthew is finally forced to choose between following his friends into the revolution or returning home. Though much of the advance publicity for the film has focused on its substantial sexual content (the studio was originally going to release an R-rated version but thankfully decided to retain Bertolucci's original cut), its pointed political themes have gone mostly unmentioned. The movie may take place in 1968, but it's very much about today's social climate; these young characters display the same mixture of idealism and apathy that's commonly ascribed to Generation X. Bertolucci has lost none of his visual imagination over the years, and he clearly relishes the opportunity to re-create a historical moment in which he played such an important part. What keeps the movie from ranking with the director's best, however, is the absence of a strong central performance. Though Pitt certainly fits the part of a wide-eyed American, he's no Marlon Brando. Green and Garrel are similarly well cast, but they're stuck playing symbols rather than fully rounded characters. Ultimately, the film works best when viewed as a tone poem that examines the present through the prism of the past. (In English and French with English subtitles.) leave a comment --Ethan Alter

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