Friday, March 30, 2012

The Dreamers (1993)

Title: The Dreamers (2003)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Cast: Michael Pitt, Eva Green, Louis Garrel


Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers is a film filled with nostalgia for the late 60’s, a time of chaos and anarchy. The time was 1968, and France was undergoing all kinds of revolutions. The workers were angry, the students were angry, people wanted to earn more, work less. Students wanted education to be more affordable. And film buffs wanted to watch their movies! That’s right; this was also a cultural revolution! You see the government decided they needed to close down theaters because films, as I’m sure most film buffs and critics understand, is a powerful medium with which to transmit ideas, almost too powerful in some peoples eyes. Film transmits ideas faster than anything, faster then reading a book or a pamphlet. In other words: film would make the masses think; a dangerous thing in the eyes of any form of government. People getting smart? People expressing themselves? Artists, cinephiles and poets gathering? Talking politics? Not a good idea! So the French government decided to close down a major theater called ‘Cinematheque Francais’; this was an action that was met by uproar from the film buff community, which at the time was growing strong.

I found this so interesting because actually, a similar situation occurred in my country a couple of years ago. There was this theater in San Juan (the capital of Puerto Rico) called ‘Filmoteca Nacional de Puerto Rico’ and it was this small theater with two screens with room for little more than 150 people per screen. These screens where used by local indie filmmakers (such as myself) to play their independent films in. The place was thriving, people where coming to see the movies they made themselves. It was a theater for the people and by the people. Money was being made, I know I made a bit. But making money was beside the point, what I was loving about the place was that people were coming to see my movies! And enjoying them! Other indie filmmakers were doing the same and so, a local underground film movement was being born. The government got a whiff of it and what happens? They shut down the place for no reason whatsoever. Supposedly, the air conditioning system couldn’t be fixed. Which of course was total bull, what they did was shut down a venue where people were expressing themselves through film. The real problem was that most of the films being made were anti-government!

The Dreamers takes place under similar circumstances, but on a much more violent scale. Film buffs where angry! Filmmakers went out on the street and protested against their voices being muted. What happened during 1968 in France was a real cultural revolution! Of course this revolution was way bigger then censoring filmmakers, but it’s a small example of the repression that was going on in the country. And people don’t like to be repressed; we all enjoy our freedoms don’t we? So this is where The Dreamers begins, right smack in the middle of all this chaos. Matthew, is the naive and kind of innocent American teenager who goes to France to study; he's a a true film buff, and so he ends up meeting Isabelle and Theo two French revolutionary film buffs themselves. That day when they first meet, they immediately hit it off! They talk about movies, take strolls down Paris and that very night become inseparable friends. One thing leads to another and Theo and Isabella end up inviting Matthew to move in with them. A love triangle ensues.

Sex was a huge part of the revolution back in those days, same as it was in the United States. It’s as if having crazy sexual exploits was something that no one could take away from them so they were going to do it. In a way, it was the ultimate revolution. Matthew says it at one point, he mentions that violence is something that the police does; it’s not what they do. What they do is kiss and make out, as much as they can. And so, The Dreamers got the dreaded NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America because of its explicit nudity and sexual situations; in other words, everybody goes full frontal on this one. If you can’t take that sort of thing, then don’t bother because this film is very graphic in this department, the camera gets right in there, right in the middle of things. Characters walk around naked in their apartment through a large part of the film. The three main characters reject what’s happening in their country and instead choose to lock themselves in their apartment and make out day and night. So anyways, I’m European at heart, so nudity in a film is really not a big thing for me, in fact, it kind of natural, as Sigmund Freud used to say we are all sexual creatures and well, sex is a part of life, there’s no point in denying it. Yet the film does address the fact that certain sexual behaviors are wrong. Theo and Isabelle are too close for comfort and Matthew points it out to them. The threesome uses their sexual adventures to ignore the realities of the harsh world, but what the film tries to tell us is that there’s no point in denying these realities, sooner or later they come crashing into our lives. 

The film also functions as a huge love letter to cinema, and I say ‘cinema’ because that’s how films are referred to in France. No one says “movie”, its either ‘cinema’ or ‘films’. Bertolucci constantly quotes other filmmakers in this film; in fact, he quotes Godard quite a lot. But Bertolucci doesn’t excuse himself for this; he says he is quoting Godard and there’s nothing wrong with that because Godard himself quoted other filmmakers and writers himself on his films. So this is a film about film; the three main characters are true film buffs in the best sense of the word. They go to the theater regularly, they analyze films, and they have discussions on who is funnier Buster Keaton or Charles Chaplin? They quote films, reenact films; they even play games where you have to guess which film the quote is from. I loved this about The Dreamers because I get them, because I myself love film as much as these crazy dudes, and I, like them, also went through my own revolution. Funny how similar the revolution portrayed on this film was to the one that occurred here in Puerto Rico in 2010 and in many parts of the world for that matter.

Same as the characters on The Dreamers, when cops were hitting students and spraying pepper spray on their faces for no good reason,  we asked ourselves the very same questions that Matthew, Theo and Isabelle ask themselves. If we care so much about the repression; then why aren’t we out there? Should we take up Molotov bombs and attack? Should we, should we, should we? Will a revolt change anything? Or will the powers that be get their way anyways in the end? It seems this scenario has been played to death across time. The documentary images that Bertolucci includes in the film of cops hitting students and protesters are so similar to those I saw and lived through a few years ago in my own country, that it almost feels uncanny. Same as in France of 1968, the revolution fizzled away, yet the people where victorious in some respects, the revolution wasn’t a total loss. The ‘Cinematheque Francais’ opened it’s doors yet again, and film buffs got to watch their films once again. The Dreamers is a revolutionary film in every sense of the word, cultural, social and sexual. Bertolucci made a beautiful, shocking yet poignant film. Very relevant to our times even though it takes place in 1968.

Rating: 5 out of 5 


Unknown said...

Excellent review! I haven't thought about this film in ages but I do recall when I first saw it and really dug it. As you say, the film is a big fat love letter to cinema and filmgoers - the kind that live, breath and enjoy cinema. I love the Bertolucci was completely unapologetic in this respect and doesn't water it down one iota.

THE DREAMERS was also my introduction to the lovely Eva Green who certainly isn't hard on the eyes and a damn fine actress in her own right. I think this might have been the first film I saw with Michael Pitt who has become an excellent actor - loved the work he did with Gus Van Sant and also his work on BOARDWALK EMPIRE. He has a very intriguing presence on camera that I find fascinating to watch.

Your review has really got me psyched to go and watch this film again. It has been too long!

Franco Macabro said...

@J.D.: Glad you enjoyed it man, this was my introduction to Eva Green as well, this was her first film, she was a theater actress before she did this one. Now she's worked with directors like Bertolucci, Ridley Scott and most recently she worked with Tim Burton in Dark Shadows, looking forward to that one.

Michael Pitt was great on this one, I remember him from Hedwig and the Angry Inch where he also played a sexually adventerous individual. Your referring to Gus Van Sant's The Last Days? I need to check that one out at some point, it always intrigued me.

I'd seen another Bertolucci before but didnt know it: the excellent film called The Last Emperor, I saw that one at a very young age, but it's always stayed with me. Im currently looking forward to seeing Last Tango in Paris with Marlon Brando.

LLJ said...

Nothing to add except that I too have a little crush on Eva Green. HAWWWWT.

Also, of all the Bond girls in all the Bond films, her acting was the best.

Franco Macabro said...

Totally agree on Eve Green's hotness LLJ! There are many opportunities on The Dreamers to appreciate that! She looks great in Dark Shadows as well, looking forward to seeing that one!


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