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Dream a Little Dream


The Dreamers

Bernardo Bertolucci, France / Italy / UK, 2003

Rating: 3.8



Posted: February 20, 2004

By Laurence Station

The essential scene in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers occurs midway through the film, when the three young leads attempt to beat the time it took the characters from Jean-Luc Godard's Bande part to race through the Louvre. Bertolucci seamlessly intercuts footage from the original and, in doing so, achieves a beautiful synthesis of life imitating art. That the famed director fails to sustain such magic throughout The Dreamers may have less to do with his shortcomings and more to do with the impossibility of capturing the spirit of a time (Paris during the 1968 riots, in this case), regardless of his mastery of the medium.

Besides, Bertolucci is less interested in the protests in the streets than he is in getting his trio of beautiful young actors into the sudsy bathtub together. Matthew (Michael Pitt) is a young American student who is taken in by twin brother and sister Theo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green), while the siblings' parents are away. The three cinema lovers spend their time quizzing one another on movie trivia, acting out scenes from particular favorites, and spending a whole lot of time naked. Bertolucci has never been one to shy away from sexually frank material, and The Dreamers certainly delivers on that front.

Fortunately, as with Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci's most sexually direct work, the director knows how to incorporate full-frontal male and female nudity in a manner that serves the story without ever seeming cheap or exploitative. We are, after all, peering into the private lives of three young adults exploring their sexuality during the heady days of the late '60s. In Matthew, the twins have found a kindred spirit willing to go places with them, mentally and physically, no other companion ever has.

Of course, Matthew's primary interest is the alluring Isabelle, which naturally drives a wedge between the two siblings, who are prone to sleeping naked together. Pitt does excellent work here as a practical suburban kid from San Diego, abroad for the first time; he indulges in all Paris has to offer, yet even he can see that the twins are lost in a fantasy realm that has stunted the emotional maturity of both. Matthew serves as the liberating factor for the twins, the dramatic lightning bolt the sunders them apart, forcing them to examine life as individuals and not simply as two sides of the same coin.

Regrettably, Bertolucci doesn't explore this aspect as deeply as he should, choosing instead to bring the turbulent political element of the time back into play at the end. Not only does this (literally) shatter the seductively intriguing dream world we've inhabited throughout most of the film, it shortchanges any real resolution we might have with these characters (be that tragic or joyous). Bertolucci is no Costa-Gavras, and the political climate here is hardly as resonant as 1969's Z. Instead, the Italian director is looking back (via screenwriter Gilbert Adair's novel The Holy Innocents: A Romance) at his own time in Paris during the period; any political fervor he once felt has naturally been tempered by the passage of years.

What remains, or should remain, is the spirit of the time. For Bertolucci, that is a love of cinema and a celebration of sexual ardor. The Dreamers manages to capture a fleeting glimpse of both, but is ultimately derailed by allowing a little too much of the real world to creep back into its proceedings.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterpiece
 4.0-4.9: Exceptional

 3.0-3.9: Solid fare

 2.0-2.9: The mediocrities...
 1.1-1.9: Poor
 0.0-1.0: Utter dreck
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