The Dreamers (2004)
The Dreamers (2004)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.

Release Date: February 20th, 2004 MPAA Rating: NC-17

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci Actors: Michael Pitt, Eva Green, Louis Garrel, Anna Chancellor, Robin Renucci, Florian Cadiou, Ingy Fillion




n the late ’60s, Californian Matthew (Michael Pitt) goes to Paris for a year to learn French. But his real passion is being a film buff, frequenting as many cinematheques as possible, soaking in French film culture. “This is where modern cinema was born.”

Amidst the moviegoing cultural revolution, Matthew meets Isabelle (Eva Green) and her brother Theo (Louis Garrel), who are at the center of protests and gatherings. Matthew is instantly inspired by the duo, who engross him in conversations about politics and film. He’s excited about his first real friendship abroad, and he’s even more enthusiastic when he’s invited to join them for dinner at their labyrinthine home in a couple of days.

With director Bernardo Bertolucci at the helm, it’s not long before strong sexual themes and suggestions emerge, tending to overshadow the airy, lovelorn narration; the jazzy music wafting through scenes; and the philosophical observations about harmony and chaos. Isabelle is quick to offer up a kiss on the lips to Matthew after a family dinner, though she plants one on her brother as well, which is odd yet quickly dismissed. Not so easily ignored is the fact that the siblings are seen lying in bed together, mostly nude, or just how often the director dwells on characters urinating (even when it’s for comic relief), undressing, washing, or doing mundane routines that take on sexual qualities.

Written by Gilbert Adair, based on his novel, and filtered through Bertolucci’s obvious love of cinema, the film proceeds with minor misadventures and general gaiety, with the trio breaking rules and revolting against authority in minimal ways. All the while, their steadily deepening, unconventional relationship pits American modesty against French openness (or, perhaps, merely the very peculiar sexual games between the incestuous siblings). “Now the stakes have been raised.”

Debates about filmmakers (Chaplin versus Keaton, for example) and quizzes about various motion pictures are lightly amusing, though the challenges always lead to sexualized forfeits that frequently transition into nearly pornographic activities. To say there’s a lot of nudity in “The Dreamers” is a gross understatement. It’s certainly a stark contrast to the clips of classic movies (including “City Lights” and “Top Hat” and “Freaks”) that intermittently interrupt the plot.

Although there’s a historical backdrop (student riots as well as commentary on the Vietnam War) to the threesome’s unceasing, hedonistic experimentations, the meandering around sexual escapades is unavoidable. It’s as if they’re the last three survivors of a postapocalyptic catastrophe trying to keep house, imitating a family but without any real survival skills, prompting them to resort to carnal instincts instead. At times they’re not discovering their sexuality as much as they’re remaining emotionally and developmentally confined by the closed-mindedness of their secret, disturbing intimacies – and just plainly, absurdly irresponsible, fueled by distant parents unwilling to impart any valuable life lessons. As a result, Bertolucci’s overarching message – and the purpose of the story – is almost entirely lost to the youthful, callow, anarchic, pervasive sex and nudity.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10