Dream a Little
Bernardo Bertolucci, France / Italy / UK, 2003
Posted: February 20,
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 à 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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