Retro Review: The Dreamers

Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci has always been a lush, crafted and intense filmmaker. He was always on the forefront of exploring the fringe of the human condition.

His photography and settings were always rich with diversity, substance and mouth-watering venues. His films also always came across as a delicious, rich and hearty meal even when his explorations were the most controversial.

Back in 1972’s “Last Tango in Paris”, Bertolucci began his examination of human sexuality as part of his exploration of what makes us tick. “Tango” pushed boundaries, broke a lot of the conventions of the typical love scene and made us all gasp. But even if it is only the sexual themes of “Last Tango” that are remembered it is the characters, acting and dynamics of the humanity within that should be. Am I right?

In his examination of the human condition, Bertolucci has also explored not only sexuality but spirituality. His spiritual films were always giant flowing epics and are probably his most acclaimed and recognized.

“The Last Emperor”, “Sheltering Sky” and “Little Buddha” were giant Bertolucci epics and they were all about overcoming extreme odds by discovering who we are within. “Buddha” was extremely underappreciated and wasn’t a success but its foundations were probably the most spiritual the director had ever been. Well that could change with “The Dreamers”.

Now some 32 years after “Last Tango”, Bertolucci has almost come full circle as he cascades back into the arena of pushing boundaries, unlocking questions and exploring some spirituality.

“The Dreamers” finds Matthew (Michael Pitt), a lonely American film buff trying to find some sort of connection in 1960s Paris. He witnesses the closing of his favorite cinema as protests and tensions start to escalate.

Matthew becomes drawn to a French woman who chains herself to the cinema’s iron gate as its closure causes a protest.

He quickly finds out that her name is Isabelle (Eva Green) and that her twin brother (Louis Garrel) and her are as much “cinephiles” as young Matthew.

Their love of film brings them together and Matthew ends up living with the siblings while their parents are on holiday.

Matthew learns a lot about himself and the dynamics of the extremely close relationship between the siblings. Their mind games and tension is intense, bewildering and begins to strike an accord with Matthew. But before their time together concludes Matthew will learn a lot about himself and a whole new side of human sexuality.

Much has been discussed, criticized and written about how Bertolucci’s
“The Dreamers” asks questions about incest and that the film pushes the envelope in that arena. In an age where people were outraged about Janet Jackson’s revelation at this year’s Super Bowl it is not surprising. We live in a society where there is so much taboo that we are almost strangled by the rhetoric of it.

I am sure that people were outraged and offended when Michelangelo’s David was unveiled. But like those people and the people who will be offended by the subject matter in this film they are missing the point. “The Dreamers” and Michelangelo’s masterpiece are more than that.

“The Dreamers” is about the people, their sharing of ideas and their own intense and unconventional exploration of how far people will go. Every one of the characters in the film are intelligent, estranged and acting on free will. Sure it is not accepted in the society of the 60s or now but these people aren’t your conventional people. Sometimes we need to look past the taboos, the offences and have a mutual understanding of the sharing of ideas.

The 1960s were an age of discovery, awakening and a pushing of sexual and spiritual boundaries. It is that radical behavior and sharing that Bertolucci is commenting on in this film.

The performance of Michael Pitt is brilliant as he beautifully expresses his awkwardness with these unconventional twins. His performance is a lot more subdued than the twins but it is the key for the audience to see how different the world he is stepping into is.

The debut performance of Eva Green is inspirational. She is so natural and such an accessible actress on screen. Her character has so many conflicting feelings and passions but her stalwart performance fleshes them out with humanity. It could have been quite easy for an actress to make Isabelle into an ice queen but we see so much more with Green.

I always love how detailed and expressive Bertolucci’s camera work is. I really enjoyed the details of the sets and how lived in each room felt. In some scenes, the photography made us feel like we were a fly on the wall.

I did have small problems with the film’s final 20 minutes. But in the context of the film and who these people are, how else could one have ended it?

I like films that ask questions, push envelopes and make us think but without being preachy, unforgiving or out of context. Bertolucci’s visions have always been those kinds of films.

It isn’t always about the sex, so wake up.

(4.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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