by Dennis Morton
24 & 25, 2004
If I were to tell you that a film featuring attractive young
people having sex and spending lots of screen time without their
clothes on was really a sophisticated character study, you might
not believe me. But you might be inclined to find out for yourself.
And I hope you do, because I think Bernardo Bertoluccis
latest film, The Dreamers, is smart, beautiful and insightful.
Because of the sex and nudity, The Dreamers has earned the dreaded
NC-17 rating, almost always a guarantee of commercial suicide
in an America that remains, after all these years, fundamentally
In addition to its pleasing and often sensual images, The Dreamers
is a film for thinking adults. Set in an important historical
time and place, Paris in the spring of 1968, The Dreamers is
about three bright young people negotiating their way through
the treacherous waters of early post-adolescence.
What makes the film so attractive to me is the exploration of
two personality types generally found occupying opposite ends
of the spectrum. While each of the three main characters share
a number of passions and obsessions, the two males in the trio
filter the same material through very different mindsets.
Matthew, a twenty year old American student, ostensibly in Paris
to perfect his French, looks at the world with the sensibilities
of a poet. Theo, whose father is a famous French poet, tends
to perceive the world through the eyes of the true believer.
Isabelle, Theos twin sister, seems trapped somewhere in
an indefinite middle. Appropriately, shes more like an
actress, trying on various roles, and attempting desperately
to find her balance.
Most of the film unfolds in a labyrinthine apartment in the
heart of Paris. The twins parents are on vacation. In
the streets outside, students and workers are roiling toward
a combustion point. But in the apartment, Isabelle, Theo and
their guest Matthew pass the days in a swirl of sex and wine,
and talk of politics, music, and the cinema.
Lust, love, curiosity, insecurity and jealousy thicken the soup
of self-discovery they simmer in. Eventually the temperature
rises and the pot boils over. In the interim we are treated
to clever puns dropped inconspicuously into the dialogue, to
clips of famous old films blended ingeniously into the narrative,
and to more than a few breathtaking pieces of camera work.
In The Dreamers, important things tend to happen at the dinner
table. Keep your ears perked for an exchange between Matthew
and the twins father. In a short conversation they comment
on the nature of inspiration and on the mysterious mix of shape
and form in the universe. Its a metaphor for the physical
and emotional struggle the three
young characters will engage in, and it provides clues about
their perceptual filters.
The soundtrack is important. Listen for the one song that is
repeated twice. It accompanies very significant events. The
lyrics are in French, but the song was a hit in
America and you may remember the English translation. If so,
it will heighten your appreciation of its aptness.
I read The Dreamers as nothing less than a portrait of the endless
conflict between two world views, on the one hand, that of the
fundamentalist, of whatever religious or political persuasion,
and on the other, the mind that can accept complexity, uncertainty
The Dreamers is as intellectually provocative as it is physically
alluring. I recommend it highly.
For KUSPs Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.