The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003)

12Aug11

Eva Green (Isabelle), Michael Pitt (Matthew), Louis Garrel (Theo). Screenplay by Gilbert Adair. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Rating: 18. Running time: 115 minutes.

The Dreamers is Bertolucci’s long, delicious love letter to love itself, Paris, youth, sex, the spirit of ’68, Hendrix and Dylan, Keaton and Chaplin, cinephilia and Godard and the New Wave that inspired him; counterculture, fringe politics, the bohemian liberty afforded to the children of the bourgeois. The dialogue and the references at times get awkwardly faux and predictable, but normally they’re annoyingly delightful. You will get stoned on Bertolucci’s colour, psychedelic soundtrack, and the voluptuous swagger of his débutante femme. He evidently yearns for his young flesh and mindset, and getting to witness that love aside, there is no purpose here. It’s an experiment in observation for observation’s sake, and you know what? That should be absolutely fine by us.

The trio the camera spends two hours adoring here are what auteurs would have us believe are typical Parisians. There might be more truth in that than we could ever imagine. It’s hard to appreciate what it would be like in a far-away world where, without DVDs, you saw films once in cinemas and that was it. It’s easy to see how the impossibility of repeat viewings made cinemas into palaces, youngsters bowing down in reverence. They play out their favourite scenes in real life, and then force forfeits from one another when they cannot name the film.

And it is here that we know we’re firmly in cinematic territory, and only with Bertolucci pulling the strings could a three way relationship this radical be made to look natural. Isabelle and Theo are siamese twins that verge on an incestuously close relationship. Matthew is an American, curious to enter such French circles but not quite ready for their confrontational sexuality and daring games. But before he knows it he’s dashing through the Louvre, reenacting Bande A Part, and he’s watching Theo masturbate to his picture of Marlene Dietrich after failing to recognise a scene from Blonde Venus.

Eva Green had guts allowing Bertolucci to use her in this way. After the brutality of Last Tango, it’s a miracle he could get any girl to play such an erotic role, however rich the character he crafted out here was. It gets irresistibly sexy, and as they drink wine and make love we get drunk on their ridiculous lifestyle. It’s not that we desire it, so much as we just want to keep watching it. If this nostalgia is in any way representative, then it was some time period, and it’s easy to see why Bertolucci wanted to capture it. It’s bonkers, but I’m glad he did so. I’d happily watch it all over again.

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