The Dreamers (2003)

The Dreamers is about cinephiles, who live in a much too claustrophobic world than what they would like it to be. I believe many movie buffs possess this distinction. Many times I feel as if I am going places that no one has ever gone through cinema, even if it’s not true. I’m often trying to reduce my boredom for the mediocrity of my immediately small world through my own imagination, as well as the imagination of filmmakers. The Dreamers sports a ton of classic film footage and many a reenactment by the main characters of such movie scenes throughout the picture. It’s quite charming.

Matthew (Michael Pitt), an American from California, is a student who has transferred to Paris during 1968. When he is frequently seen at the Cinematheque Francaise theater by French English siblings, Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel), they take an interest in him as the possible film buff that they would love to have in good company. The three become friends instantly and their relationship’s nature moves at an increasingly abnormal pace. The twins turn out to be not only joint physically or genetically, but also in spirit and mind. They’re inseparable. Matthew is also seeking such similar life long bonds, but soon finds out that there is way more costs and risks he’ll need to take to achieve such deeper relationships. You have to take the good with the bad after all.  
For the most part, the “dreamers” stay secluded from the world during the student riots from just outside their apartment and live among classical and French New Wave films instead. They drink lots of wine, talk politics, Jimmy Hendrix vs. Eric Clapton, Charlie Chaplin vs. Buster Keaton, Godard, the occasional philosophical intervention, and many other standard topics that most college students discuss. Rather than truth or dare, they play a name-the-film game, in which losing it could mean a dare that you have never ever imagined yourself doing in front of someone else.

What makes the Dreamers a little different from most college student intellectual snobbery type movies isn’t the discussions. It’s the electrifying cast, the film’s setting and time period, but more importantly how intensely personal the three become. Their healthily obsessive passion for film gets completely channeled and refocused on each other. So the film is primarily about an unlikely love story, a brutal one at that, as well as all the complications and consequences that come with it. More substantial friendships as well as relationships demand more painstaking effort. It’s like opening up a can worms.  Similarly the film eases it’s way into a crazy state of affairs, even to a taboo level. Matt, Isabelle, and Theo’s personal dealings with each other intensify, as the riots in their neighborhood get progressively more serious as well. It should come as no surprise that this movie stirred up controversy in the United States since Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris) directed it.

So there is a lot of nudity and some intensely personal sex in this movie, but you couldn’t consider it a porn movie by any means. The chemistry between the characters is not only intriguing, but heightens with each passing scene. You will substantially believe the characters grow to love each other very quickly, and that their admiration for each other goes well beyond a mere fondness or strong infatuation. I haven’t seen a ton of NC-17 movies but I’m willing to bet that The Dreamers is an easy candidate for the best one ever. The movie attracted interest as well as the funding by the United Kingdom, France and Italy. It received a lot of favor for such a specified target audience. Image
Bertolucci’s twentieth film is just as disturbingly sick as it is wonderful and daring. As the film gradually reveals, there is something genuinely creepy growing inside of Isabelle and Theo. It’s a difficult film to watch at times for it’s unapologetic and psychologically bold content. Eva Green had even mentioned how she couldn’t even watch the movie during certain parts. She said, while on set, it was like she was in costume and completely forgot about how graphic the subject matter they were exploring was. The cast had to have become really close for Green to make such a statement, seeing how all three actors were naked on set as often as clothed. I would be reasonably shocked if I had heard that these actors weren’t still close friends to this day.

What could have been done better?
I actually believe that the content of the conversations weren’t quite as unique as the character’s personalities might have suggested. They would be even more unusual people if they were perhaps obsessed with Japanese or Russian films rather than say… the French New Wave, which happened in their immediate culture. However, there is indeed a poster of “The Blue Angel,” which was one of those rare movies filmed twice by the same actors into two spoken languages, German and English. The German one is much more famous.

Also, while there’s nothing wrong with conversations about Jimi Hendrix, Godard, or Charlie Chaplin, not too many of us could say that we never had, or at least heard of such debates before. Having said this, I recognize that Bernardo Bertolucci hadn’t any intention of making these characters appear as if they were the most different the earth had to offer, nor did Gilbert Adair, the screenplay writer as well as the author of the Holy Innocents, which it was based off of. On the other hand, I rarely see such intellectual and critical debates in film that I can hardly bicker about how basic they may be. It’s refreshing to see even just a little bit of it among modern film making today.

A second thing I will call attention to is of course the snobby air of the characters being portrayed. While these people may no doubt be too much for some to stomach, it was refreshing to hear the director mention that he originally didn’t want to use Micheal Pitt for his movie during the DVD commentary. He said that there was a narcissistic quality about him that took him off guard, but when he interviewed him, he realized his personality was completely the opposite of his perhaps annoying image. Both of those points that Bernardo mentions definitely show during the movie as well. Michael Pitt through no fault of his own comes off as spoiled know-it-all brat until he opens his mouth and tries to express his ideas for the common good. I really admired the director’s maturity level to look past this unintentional demeanor of Pitt and leave that tone in his movie anyway.

Eva Green as well as Louis Garrel on the other side of the balancing scale are deliberately playing narcissistic characters. This might be nauseating for some, but I thought it made their performances all the more creditable. So I would regard it as a strength rather than a weakness. It was completely appropriate as well as realistic for the people they were portraying.

Where does the film shine? The Dreamers draws you in at every frame and in every scene. The setting during this time period is extremely accurate, as well as the clothes, and the political miss-happenings. It’s a large advantage that the director actually lived in Paris during 1968. The “twin’s” apartment, where most of the movie takes place, is full of character and taste. The soundtrack in my opinion is merely okay containing Hendrix and Janis Joplin songs. As I mentioned before, it’s not as lesser known or abnormal as you might like it to be, but it’s appropriate for the 60s. The cinematography stays close and personal to it’s actors like it’s subject matter would demand. There is certainly barely anything wrong with how it’s shot or framed, although I wonder if we will ever see a blu ray release of this movie.

The actors may almost be sickeningly gorgeous, but you can’t hate them because the dedication of their performances are just as beautiful. As far as I’m concerned this is Michael Pitt, Eva Green, and Louis Garrel’s best movie and it would be hard to top it even after another 20 movies of acting later. All three are unbelievable in this movie, but watching Eva Green in this role is like staring at the sun the entire length of the story. You know it may even be bad for you, but it’s the brightest and most energized object in the sky as it warms you up graciously, even from 150 kilometers away. It frustrates me that every other role Eva has been given to play weren’t deep enough to showcase more of her abilities.

As far as the ending is concerned, some have been disappointed by it. I, for one, felt it was even more brutal than the entire rest of the film. Without giving anything away, all I can say is that if you consider what each character is feeling and thinking within the last few moments of interacting with each other, it’s about 20 to 30 different emotional responses in a few seconds and then the film quickens past it just like how real life does. Many viewers seem to completely miss it (I have no idea how). It’s all about Matthew’s face and what’s rolling around in his think tank at the end. I have had similar friendships as this film portrayed (minus the sexual content), so I relate with it in a lot of ways.

I’ve seen the Dreamers probably about 6 or 7 times since it’s release 11 years ago. I give it 4 stars. Every time I stumbled on it on IFC I couldn’t change the channel. I now own it. The Dreamers is beyond powerful. It’s a difficult and unforgettable film.  I would describe it as Isabelle does during a scene in the bathroom while all three are brushing their teeth. She spontaeously calls out adjectives, half crazy-eyed, while examining Matthew’s lips with a fixated and almost scientific fascination, “So red… and ripe, and luscious. So sullen… brutal.”

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