Paris, 1968. Police close the Cinematheque Francais and cinephiles fly into a tizzy. But when Papa and Mumsey go away on business, incestuous twins Theo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green) decide to stay inside and explore the body politic with their new disaffected American friend, Matthew (Michael Pitt). Bernardo Bertolucci’s oh-so-wicked The Dreamers is largely about perception—when Matthew breaks Isabelle’s hymen and rubs the blood all over their faces, he’s surprised to discover that she’s a virgin, and when blood is spilt during a group bathing session, it’s a while before Isabelle tells everyone that they’re dealing with her menstrual cycle and not an ordinary razor cut. There are two films at work here: a love-struck but tedious ode to cinephilia and a fascinating exploration of sex as a form of political resistance (or, more accurately, political non-action). The twins reenact scenes from canonical films of the era (Shock Corridor, Freaks, Breathless, etc.) and freely regurgitate wisdoms a la Cahiers du Cinéma. Their game of charades threatens the loser with sexual punishment—Theo fails to guess that Marlene Dietrich dances in a gorilla suit in Blonde Venus and, naturally, has to whack-off to a picture of the Blue Angel—but the constant back-and-forth between real life and everyone’s filmic point of reference lacks spontaneity and quickly grows tiresome. Maybe the film’s dialectic is overly familiar, but The Dreamers is seemingly designed for anyone who spends more time debating the merits of Keaton over Chaplin on message boards than they do sucking and fucking (it’ll be interesting to read how older critics will address and/or ignore the film’s titillation factor). Bertolucci’s characters love movies, and all they do is talk about their fixation (sound familiar?), but they remain oblivious to the politics of the cinematic image—their power to incite revolt (like, say, The Battle of Algiers and Masculin, Féminin). One could ask: What’s the point of the film’s children of Marx and Coca-Cola engaging Band of Outsiders and Freaks (or listening to Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix) if they don’t understand the Cinemarxist potential of the politicized pop culture of the era? One, of course, can argue that this is more or less the point of the film—not unlike their fixation on sex, these characters use movies as a way to drown out the world outside. Bertolucci’s allusions and aesthetic pairings are forced, not unlike his thesis and piss-and-vinegar sex, but there’s no denying the subversive power of the film’s final images. Bertolucci intends Theo and Isabelle as insular, bourgeois brats, and he plays their separation anxiety (they’re Siamese twins, separated at the shoulder) for cosmic-sexual gravitas. But when a random act of fate interrupts a would-be suicide, the twins confront the power of cinema and, in the end, learn to fight back.
- Bernardo Bertolucci
- Gilbert Adair
- Michael Pitt, Louis Garrel, Eva Green, Robin Renucci, Anna Chancellor, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Jean-Pierre Léaud
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