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The Dreamers
2004 - NC-17 - 130 Mins.
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Producer: Jeremy Thomas
Written By: Gilbert Adair
Starring: Michael Pitt, Louis Garrel, Eva Green
Review by: Harrison Cheung
Official Site:

An American in Paris
Coincidentally, two movies are playing in Los Angeles with very similar themes. Both are about naïve Americans going to experience the heady richness of Europe. Both movies feature odd twins and are about sex – a take on the square American attitude versus the much more liberal European attitude.

The main difference between Bernardo Bertolucci’s ‘The Dreamers’ and the new teen farce ‘Eurotrip’ is sincerity and ambition. While ‘Eurotrip’ is nothing more and nothing less than a hormonally-engorged farce with a nicely aimed poke at stereotypes, ‘The Dreamers’ has the triple challenge of being erotic, intelligent and socially relevant about a period of history few Americans know about.

‘The Dreamers’ follows an American student, Matthew, played by DiCaprio-lookalike, Michael Pitt, in Paris during the turbulent student riots in the spring of 1968. To the French, the riots were pivotal (think Kent State or Tiananmen Square), but that’s with the luxury of history and hindsight. What was it like to live through such times? Exciting? Did one get a sense of history in the making?

In the Cinematheque Francaise, Matthew meets an attractive young couple, Theo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green) – who happen to be twins and are just as passionate about movies as Matthew. Attracted by Matthew’s American naiveté, the twins invite him back to their apartment when their parents conveniently go away for a trip. The twins like to play strange, twisted mind games with Matthew and each other, getting disturbingly close to incest. Matthew, raised in middle America, finds their behavior wrong BUT he’s nevertheless entranced and eventually seduced.

There’s a lot at work in ‘The Dreamers.’ While Paris is rioting, the three young people – beautifully photographed like a dark Euro-Abercrombie-Fitch commercial – experiment with sex. But while the twins fall into a sort of sexual intoxication, Matthew is troubled at the languor – if sex is the drug of choice, then this trio seems happy to dull their senses ironically with sensuality, ignoring the real-life social upheaval happening just outside their windows. He wants a normal, one-to-one relationship with Isabelle but she’s unable to have such a bland and conventional union as she has mixed feelings about her brother.

A lot of the movie depends on the charm and chemistry of the three leads. While Pitt was outstanding in the movie ‘Murder by Numbers’ and memorable in ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch,’ his DiCaprio similarities extend to a nasal, flat contemporary delivery. Eva Green is beautiful but listening to her spout lines about politics, philosophy and film seemed gratingly pompous. And Louis Garrel has the thankless task of playing the increasingly jealous twin with a dark sourness. All three are physically beautiful (and very brave) and that seems to the main reason for the line-ups at the theater because there’s plenty of frontal nudity in ‘The Dreamers.’ (Jake Gyllenhaal was originally cast as Matthew but dropped out when he hit the nudity clauses!)

Overall, ‘The Dreamers’ is a worthwhile film to watch. It will appeal to the artsy crowd as they analyze the film’s many cinematic references or argue who’s better – Chaplin or Keaton. It will appeal to 1960s aficionados thanks to the driving 60s rock soundtrack. It’s the perfect discussion movie – an ode to film as art, to sex as a metaphor for freedom or for excess, or to Bertolucci’s blatant and calculated use of sex and nudity to remain vibrant and relevant. To that end, I can’t imagine any American director making this kind of film.

Still, this kind of movie lingers. If ‘The Dreamers’ is a valentine to the love of film, it also seemed as if Bertolucci were snubbing the movie audience because these ‘dreamers’ were happy to play their Trivial Pursuit Games (extreme cinema edition), sip their aperitifs, spout about Communism and existentialism, take group bubble baths and have inventive combinations of sex while Paris burns. It’s as if the film was subversively telling the audience, “Get out of the theater! Go outside and live a real life!”

Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

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