Most Americans seem to view the spring of 1968 in a very myopic fashion, as if the whole world was centered on the events in this country. True, this was a time of great change here in the States but radical change was afoot throughout the world that eventful spring. The Dreamers takes the audience over the Atlantic Ocean to Paris, a city that was also experiencing violence fanned by the conflict of the youth against the established society. At that time and place the focus of much of the counter culture was Cinematheque Francais, literally French films. For the French going to screenings of various films was about the same as going to a love in back here. Matthew (Michael Pitt) is a young American pacifist who gets the opportunity to study abroad for a year. He almost immediately finds himself drawn to the French movie houses and becomes enthralled by the power of cinema. There he meets twin siblings Theo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green) who share his infatuation with film. As the friendship grows Theo offers Matthew the opportunity to stay with them in the family apartment while the rest of the family is away for vacation. What begins as an innocent friendship becomes something twisted, sexually bizarre as the three young people retreat from the almost constant violence outside into their self made introverted world. They play a hybrid of movie trivia and truth & dare, each dare becoming more sexual explicit, pushing the social boundaries that Matthew is accustomed to.
What is done in this film is how obsessive people have their reality collapse on itself. They become so involved with their own little world that the greater events shaping reality drifts away, meaningless to them. It is almost as if Matthew is the naïve innocent, coming to Paris wide eyed dreaming of new experiences, like Adam in the Bible, untouched by sin. Isabelle is the apple of temptation, the beautiful young woman wiling to explore new sexual experiences. This leaves Theo as the snake I suppose, the instigator that provides the catalyst that paves the way for the moral corruption of Matthew. As with any relationship based upon a fantasy world the three soon enough find theirs to be toxic. The unnatural closeness of the two siblings is only the start. With Matthew they find someone to share their behavior with. What Matthew learned in the States left him ill prepared to cope with the combination of acceptance and temptation that he had to face. The fall and corruption of society as seen with the riots and disruption is mirrored on a moral level with what occurs in the small apartment.
This is definitely a director’s film, the cast is almost secondary. Still, the young actors are able to hold on to their characters and infuse some degree of emotional depth. Michael Pitt takes Matthew on as the naïve American, a big change from the usual sexually experience youth that most films dealing with the late sixties depict. He allows Matthew to slowly, almost organically sink into the psychological games the twins enjoy playing. He seems to require acceptance so much that he is willing to compromise his moral fiber to gain it. Louis Garrel presents Theo on at least two levels. There is the young man that has found someone to share his love for cinema with while at the same time begins to see Matthew as a sexual rival for the attention of his sister. Although Theo instigates the sexual relationship between Matthew and Isabelle he is at the same time jealous their sexual activities. New comer Eva Green holds an almost perfect balance between temptress and sweet young woman in her portrayal of Isabelle. She combines the much sought out attributes of the film star of ‘the face of an angel with a body for sin’. She brings to Isabelle the characteristic of playing the emotionally dangerous game pitting her brother against their new friend.
Director Bernardo Bertolucci appears to be a man that is unwilling to be constrained by accepted norms. Like his film Stealing Beauty, The Dreamers explores the awaking of sexual desire. His constant references to the great cinema of the 20th century shows that this is a director with an appreciation of the contributions others have made to the craft he has chosen. As with other Bertolucci films like Little Buddha, the construction of the scene is everything here. The disarray of the apartment reflects the disintegration of the relationship of the three young people. A brick tossed into their window from the riots outside visually reinforcing how reality may be ignored by these three but is still exists and will encroach on their self made world. Like his Last Tango in Paris Bertolucci explores the human body and sexually in a fashion that is so overdone and overt that it ceases to be erotic and falls into an almost clinic exploration. Rather than have his vision for this film compromised by the MPAA the director and the studio decided to release the film with the dreaded NC-17 rating. While this typically results in loss income they decided it was better to show what Bertolucci envisioned. Unlike the first NC-17 film, Henry and June, the film does fail to fully develop the characters and interest may wax and wane during the course of the film.
Although Fox decided to release the original film for the DVD they provide both the NC-17 version as well as a cut down R rated variation. Both feature a 1.85:1 video transfer and Dolby 5.1 audio. The video is fairly well done, there was some artifacts present in the demarcation between light and dark aspects of some scenes, typical though the video quality was acceptable. The audio track was balanced nicely with ambient sounds coming from the rear speakers. Often this was the sounds of the outside world just beyond the apartment. For extras there is a commentary track by the director, writer and producer. Each person brings to the table their own view point of the film and what was required to bring it to the screen. While generally interesting there was a certain hubris contained in their comments. One interesting featurette is a look at the events of May 1968. It does provide some understand for the social and political climate of the story. While not for everyone this is a must have for the hard core Bertolucci fan.