The Dreamers (2003) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Dreamers (2003)

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ANDREW LIKEWe get the occasional protest these days, but nothing like the riots caused by some of the great European films of the 60‘s.  It really seemed like life would change because of Godard and others in his rabble rousing clan.  That was idealistic.  It was a dream by people that elected a spokesman who thought in images and dealt with dreams.  The Dreamers follows this path from idealism and power to a long, sad decline into blind rage and grief.

This is an endlessly fascinating examination of the death of cinematic idealism.  The stage is Paris in 1968 when young Americans like Matthew (Michael Pitt) could arrive hoping to learn French and never leave the theaters.  Eventually, he catches the eyes of Isabelle (Eva Green) and her twin brother Theo (Louis Garrel).  The twins take it upon themselves to draw Matthew into their world of games and humiliation when their parents disappear to the coast for a month.

Their house is a cocoon, safe and protected from the riots that are slowly escalating outside the walls.  The corridors twist and turn into each other, doors are hidden everywhere, and it is all lovingly captured by Bertolucci.  They tease and test Matthew on movies, reenacting old scenes and living their lives as if they are in a doomed Truffaut romance.  Matthew is suspicious, but allows himself to be taken in by their charms, even after one of their games ends with Isabelle commanding Theo to masturbate in front of she and Matthew.

All the while the world continues on without them, growing more violent and lacking from the naive idealism of film.  This is central to the idea of The Dreamers.  Theo and Isabelle are not children of free will, they are born of movies, learned from movies and will continue to live their lives reenatcting the scenes they love so.  Matthew has the benefit of being an outsider, but truly believes in the purity of love and the cinema.

The film has a curious aura about it.  It’s clear that these events are being remembered by Matthew later on in his life, but have the spirit of being caught in the moment.  They speak in grand gestures while sitting around the apartment growing more and more isolated from the outside world.  Perhaps they remember these evens so fondly because they cannot realize just how crazy they are in these moments of “divine art”.

Part of the beauty of Bertolucci’s film is how it effortlessly envokes these feelings of nostalgia while maintaining a certain sense of realism about those times.  There isn’t a lot of the flashy camerawork that was so prevalent in Last Tango In Paris, but the film is sensuously detailed.  The home is a treasure, and we can see how these young idiots could form so many crazy ideas about the world when they can’t even go out to see it.

There’s an awful lot of frank sexuality in the film that is incredibly refreshing.  Matthew is clearly attracted to Isabelle, and seems to have some feelings for Theo as well.  It’s not all fresh and pure though.  Theo and Isabelle are clearly attracted to each other.  In an early moment Matthew sees the two of them sleeping naked with each other in bed but chooses to stay.  Why?  Perhaps he thinks in his own idealism that he might be able to stop their self destructive nature.

Films of the French New Wave are effortlessly invoked in a way that does not feel intrusive or gimmicky.  These people built their lives around cinema and it makes sense that the visual and audio style of the movie would recall those times.  Even the casting has a lot of the feel of the New Wave.  Louis Garrel is the standout here and has to convey a lot of complicated emtions from his rage, incestual feelings toward his sister, and his desire to keep dreaming.  He even looks like he could have starred in one of Godard’s features from the 60‘s, with features that recall Alain Deleon and Jean-Pierre Leaud (who makes a welcome cameo at an early protest).

The film put me into a haze.  I remember when I used to sit with friends debating endlessly about matters of urgent importance.  However, I’m starting to wonder if any of us ever really said anything.  Maybe we were isolating ourselves from the outside world as well, trying to build our dream wherever we could.  But those years are gone now, and I can only ponder what thoughts I have left, and if I have any more room to dream.

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The Dreamers (2003)

Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.
Written by Gilbert Adair.
Starring Michael Pitt, Eva Green and Louis Garrel.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. … really? This is probably one of the worst goddamn movies I’ve ever seen.

    So, uh, bravo.

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