perhaps just bad timing that the latest film by Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci (The
Last Tango In Paris) is coming out just a couple of weeks after the big
scandal over Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction."
Personally, Jackson's act didn't offend me, though I was disturbed that an
established star felt she had to resort to such a sleazy stunt to try to
The act made the morals police suit up to make sure that sex and
nudity be shuffled back into the closet. They say that the human body has no place
While they are right that it was completely inappropriate
for the Super Bowl halftime show, there is a very valid place for erotic
images in entertainment. The hypocritical ratings board freely give R
ratings to disturbingly violent films, but any film that dares to frankly
explore human sexuality is saddled with the NC-17 rating.
NC-17 has always been a hard
sell. It was supposed to be a rating for intelligent adult fare when it
was introduced about fifteen years ago, but except for a few mainstream films
like Henry & June, Bent and Bad Lieutenant, the rating was
overrun by soft core pornography. Therefore, major cinemas were
skittish about showing them, and some major chains (such as Walmart and Blockbuster)
refused to sell the videos. So now, there are rarely filmmakers brave
enough to resist trimming their film to get an R. The same problem happened with the X
rating 20 years before. Early on in the ratings system, Midnight
Cowboy won the Best Picture Oscar as an X-rated film (though looking
back it's hard to believe it was even rated R.)
Bernardo Bertolucci created one of the more respected X-rated films back
then with Last Tango, before the X rating became poison. On his latest film, he considered cutting
it slightly for an R rating. But in the end he stuck by his vision,
and had to pay for it with an NC-17. Honestly, I don't know what the big deal
was. While there is a decent amount of full-frontal nudity in The
Dreamers, it has relatively little sex. You can see a lot worse
late night on
Showtime or Cinemax.
The Dreamers is a film of sexual
exploration. Michael Pitt, who stood out in earlier performances in
Murder By Numbers and Hedwig & the Angry Inch, plays Matthew, an
American exchange student in Paris in 1968. Often he will skip classes
to spend the day at the Cinémathèque Français, a famous palace of film in
the City of Lights. During a protest, he meets Isabelle and Theo,
twins who have a strangely flirtatious relationship. The three spend a
few heady days together at the twins' parent's huge apartment, smoking pink
cigarettes, debating film, music and politics and eventually sharing sexual
experimentation as Paris is exploding in protest around them.
film does have some interesting ideas and superb acting. It was truly
brave to throw commercial caution to the wind and try to make an intelligent
just wish I liked it more than I do.
biggest problem is the characters of siblings Theo and Isabelle.
consider themselves rebels, but
they really have nothing to rebel about. They have
cool, rich, artistic parents who put up with every their every ill-tempered
whim. They are obsessive about film, to the point of constantly acting
out scenes from old films as a strange competition. They spout
rhetoric about a people's revolution that is coming, but they watch it
outside their windows rather than participating. They never have a
normal, rational reaction when a dramatic overreaction could do. The
two come off as self-centered brats, with no real
care for anyone but themselves.
They invite their new American
friend to stay with them, arguing with him about the relative worth of
Chaplin vs. Keaton and Clapton vs. Hendrix. (Though this film is set
in 1968, these arguments still give the film a very dated quality.)
Soon they graduate to suggestive and then just frankly sexual dares to which
Matthew is the horrified but intrigued witness. Not that Isabelle and
Theo are lovers, in fact they are supposed to be both virgins until Theo
dares Isabelle to sleep with Matthew. But they are only virgins in
technicality, they sleep together in the nude, watch each other bathe, flirt
with each other and are obviously in love with each other.
And, frankly, not to sound prudish, but the incestuous undertones of their
relationship are just a little creepy.
is too bad, because there is a lot of talent in front of and behind the
Eva Green is wonderful in her thankless role. She
is a surprisingly good actress and has a beautiful and intoxicating mixture
of ripe sexuality and shy innocence. After seeing what she does in
this movie, I believe she will soon cross over and become a major film star
like fellow Europeans Monica Bellucci or Penelope Cruz. Michael Pitt
is also strong in the role, portraying the only one of the trio with some
grasp of reality. As Theo, Louis Garrel's job is much more
problematic. He is fine with what he is given, but his character is
such a pretentious, jealous, know-it-all that it leaves a sour taste, even
if that is what he was told to create.
In the end, though, even though I do
respect many parts of the movie, Theo and Isabelle are just too disturbed to
allow me to recommend this.
The Dreamers isn't
going to resuscitate the moribund NC-17 rating. But I'm glad they at
least tried. (2/04)
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Posted: February 14,