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Archive for June 12th, 2009

The dreamers posterBernardo Bertolucci doesn’t make many films, in a career that has spanned nearly fifty years he has made less than twenty films.  In the last two decades he has managed just four.  His most recent; The Dreamers was more than five years ago but is actually my favourite of his work.  His most well know films are probably Last Tango in Paris and of his more recent work Stealing Beauty (featuring a great central performance from Liv Tyler) but the dreamers is a truly captivating film.  It is a film by a director who loves films about people who love films for people who love films. 

the dreamersSet in Paris in 1968 this is film that is truly in love with films.  From the opening bars of Third Stone from the Sun by Jimmi Hendrix and the voiceover saying “The first time I saw a movie at the cinématèque française I thought, “Only the French would house a cinema inside a palace.””  I knew I was going to love this film, it had me hooked.  The voiceover is given by Matthew (Michael Pitt) who is the central character.  An American student living in Paris to learn French.  The star of the film is the simply mesmerising Eva Green playing Isabella one of the French twins who befriend Matthew.  All the more remarkable as this was the first film the young actress had made, three years before her most famous role as Vespa Lynd in Casino Royale.  A stunning début!

the dreamers bathTheo and Isabelle live in a large apartment is Parris with their parents, it is probably best described by A. O. Scott in his New York Times review as “decadent bourgeois squalor” he also calls the relationship between the twins as “incestuous in all but the most technical sense”.  This sums up the pair perfectly, Matthew is uncomfortable with this but is drawn to it, to them.  Matthew movies in when the twin’s parents leave on a trip.  The trio live an isolated existence in their apartment coming somewhat detached from the world outside and the 1968 Student Rebellions that are going on outside their windows.  Theo is the most politically minded of the characters but is no more involved than the other two he is happy to live in his parents comfortable surrounding and drink their expensive wine.  One us suspects that had this been the revolution and not a student uprising it is more likely that his head be on the block than his hands on the guillotine! They are lost in a world of films, music and later sex.  Their farther who Theo sees as selling out tells his son “Before you can change the world you must realize that you, yourself, are part of it. You can’t stand outside looking in.”  After his talk of change at the end of the film Theo and Isabelle get involved in the protests as Matthew disappears into the crowd.  Are the Dreamers of the title the people of the streets rebelling for change or are they the kids lost in a dream world of classic cinema?  This is never explained letting the viewer make their own mind up.  Ultimately I think it refers to both as they are both victims of youthful folly and they turn out to be not that much different.  

dreamersOn release in America the film received an NC-17 rating for explicit sexual content although there is also an R rated version that has been cut.  The BBFC in the UK gave it their maximum 18 rating but was passed with no cuts made.  It actually contains very little sex and what is shown is relatively mild but there is a huge amount of nudity.  Both the nudity and the sex are integral to the plot and like the rest of the film are intelligently and beautifully shot.  At the box office the film had a limited release but has done okay on DVD covering its $15 million budget.  Not bad for an arty film with a crippling certificate.

a bout de souffleI have already touched on the cinematic connections and references to other films.  there is also an interesting device used where a when a characters discus or impersonate films we see little clips of the original films notably:  A bout de soufflé, Bede a part, Freaks, Blonde Venus, Scarface, Queen Christina and Top Hat. This could be seen as a way of demonstrating the depth of film knowledge the characters have or a director assuming the audience don’t have the knowledge that he or his characters do.  However you look at it I see it as a treat and a reminder of some great films particularly Jean-Luc Godard’s sublime A bout de soufflé (Breathless).  The music is also central and captures the mood and setting perfectly, used as background music as well as records played by the characters.  As well as Hendrix who I have already mentioned there is music by 60’s icons:  The Doors, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and the Steve Miller Band.  There is music from other films that is successfully used within the score. 

the dreamers eva greenFor those who are not offended by the sex and nudity this is a film that deserves a greater audience than the art-house and cult following it has picked up.  It is intelligently made, perfectly paced and beautifully photographed making a far more rewarding film than your usual coming of age drama.  It is also a chance to see Eva Green giving a carefree performance where she is able to let go and give her all.  It is a performance that that you are unlikely to see from her now she is a big name star and also one that only certain directors can get out of a young starlet.  It is not the first time Bernardo Bertolucci has done it lets hope it isn’t the last.

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