DVD Move Review: The Dreamers (2003)

maxresdefaultThe Dreamers (2003) is a film you are supposed to experience, rather than watch. There is far too much going on in Bernardo Bertolucci’s piece to process logically, so you needn’t worry about picking holes in the plot, or anything else. A word of warning, though. If you are against a little bit (okay, a lot) of nudity, The Dreamers may not be for you.

Hollywood sometimes gets a bit squeamish about nudity. It is little surprise then that the many people didn’t warm to the film, or more specifically, some of the ideas and imagery portrayed in it. What is most unfair, though, is to scorch the film based on the director’s reputation, which has been done in the past.

In terms of plot, there are two narratives going on here. There first is a little bit of history for you. Matthew (Michael Pitt), is an American film enthusiast and student. He travels to Paris during the Paris student riots, strikes and protests of the late 60s. There he meets and stays with Théo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green), who are also lovers of film, and happen to be twins. Expect a lot of English and some French. The Dreamers is very much a visual film, so don’t get too bogged down on the interchanging dialogue. The twins end up sharing their new-found friend with one another, in more ways than you might imagine. That’s where the second narrative comes in. Queue the nudity…

Firstly, let’s get the obvious out of the way. How much nudity are we talking about here? Suffice to say, more than a wee bit. Eva Green goes full frontal, and not just from a distance. We’re talking up close camera work. Michael Pitt’s bits are also plastered on the screen for all to see. In my opinion (though apparently, I’m in the minority), none of the nudity is particularly gratuitous, since it does help to paint a very warped picture of the lifestyle of the twins; their curiosity, for instance.

So, yes, that second narrative. This parallel story concerns the relationship which develops between the three main characters. Naturally, there’s a love story going on between Pitt’s and Green’s characters, and you are kind of hoping in the beginning that Théo might just be a third wheel. Isabelle would disagree, though. You see where this is going? Their relationship makes for fascinating, if uncomfortable viewing at times. It has to be said, I find that the chemistry between Green and Pitt is as cold as ice, but it is scary how in tune Green and Garrel were able to work together. For characters are complex as Isabelle and Théo, that is essential.

After a lot of sexual experimentation, and a lot of throwbacks and homages to past movies, the anything goes attitude of the twins and Matthew, culminates in them participating in the aforementioned riots. After all the smoke is cleared, Matthew walks away from the carnage, no doubt returning to America something less of a prude.

The experience Bertolucci takes you on is a puzzler. Initially, via the first narrative, you are led to believe that The Dreamers is merely about a film about students who love films, in a film by a director who also loves pictures. In such a short space of time, it movies on rapidly to something else entirely. It takes you on a journey, all the while you’re trying to decrypt the feelings and emotions of the trio’s relationship to one another. By the time the most extensive and expressive of the nude scenes is over, you have given up. From there out, as I’ve said, The Dreamers is just an experience, not merely a film.

If you can look past that, and some of the more grotesque elements of those scenes, you’ll find it a heart-warming film, and one which has been clearly thought out. The way the two narratives split apart, and come together again are magical. There are also signs in The Dreamers that Bertolucci is trying to show his admiration for classic films. It is just the way he has chosen to do it, through the “you show me yours, and I’ll show you mine” explorative attitude of the characters, which has people turning away from this film.

Deep is probably not the best word to describe The Dreamers. I prefer layered, or perhaps raw. Whatever your taste in films, there are few like this one. Personally, I like it. It’s different, and I’d certainly recommend it. You know, as long as you’re open to experiencing something slightly outside of your comfort zone.

115 mins.

Movie News: EFA Honours Bernardo Bertolucci

In recognition of a unique and dedicated contribution to the world of film, the European Film Academy has announced its ‘great pride’ in presenting Bernardo Bertolucci with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bertolucci began his career as an assistant director to Pier Paolo Pasolini on Accattone (1961) and directed his first feature film at the age of 21. His second film, Before the Revolution (1964), was released to great acclaim and he has never since then stopped shaping the way in which we look at cinema. His 1970 film The Conformist with Jean-Louis Trintignant and Stefania Sandrelli premiered in Berlin, won the Italian David di Donatello for Best Film and received Bertolucci’s first Oscar nomination, and his 1972 film Last Tango in Paris with Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider and Jean-Pierre Léaud received another two Oscar nominations. His fame increased with the epic 1900 (1976) with Robert de Niro, Gérard Depardieu and Burt Lancaster and The Last Emperor (1987) which won a total of nine Oscars, three BAFTA Awards, the French César, nine David di Donatello awards, and a special jury award at the inaugural European Film Awards in 1988.

Among his later films are The Sheltering Sky (1990) with Debra Winger and John Malkovich and The Dreamers (2003), which was nominated for the EFA Audience Award and the Spanish Goya. Bernardo Bertolucci’s latest film, Me and You (2012), premiered in the official selection, out of competition, at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

Bernardo Bertolucci will be an honorary guest at the 25th European Film Awards Ceremony on 1 December 2012 in Malta.

The Sheltering Sky (1990)

Sky blues

We always welcome new blood at Picturenose – our good friend Marc Bacon casts his eye over Bernardo Bertolucci‘s The Sheltering Sky (1990). Take it away, Marc! 🙂

Bernardo Bertolucci’s noble effort to preserve in celluloid the fantasia of what was in Paul Bowles’s mind was always going to be an ambitious project. The base story, however, is as old as the hills. Guy likes girl, girl not sure. Hmmm – we are living in an age of tragedy, but we refuse to recognize it.

The book was written in a period (1949) where divorce was first becoming commonplace without any tragic consequences, and was a precursor to what has become a modern-day contagion. The main character Port, like Tony as in E.M. Forster’s Hard Cheese on Tony (A Handful of Dust), finds this turn of events a bitter pill to swallow. The book reads a little like E.M. Forster in terms of lightness, neutrality and mindfulness, which makes putting it on the silver screen rather difficult.

Enter Mark Peploe, who transforms what was a bleak and depressing tale into a kind of desert love story with a dash of Lawrencian (D.H.) style, passion and sensuality. So, Berty finds himself having to harness two worlds; the mental and the emotional. It’s Forster versus Lawrence. A delicate balancing act, if ever there was one.

Bored with western life, two artists, Kit and Port Moresby, embark on a ‘savage pilgrimage’ to Northern Africa, in a bid to save their marriage. To do justice to Bowles’ book, the film had to deliver more than a portrait of a couple in disarray – it also had to explore the profundity of the female psyche and of the turmoil that is male desperation. A woman over 35 who knows exactly what she wants is as rare as rocking-horse shit, and this film bears witness to that with style and ease. Port is a man who has become too dependant on his lythe, lissom spouse, and a sense of tragedy is deftly engineered from the start.

The lythe lissom spouse feels like a change but is held back. Indecision sets in, and then all hell breaks lose involving customs officers, prostitutes, petty English criminals, a camel train and sexual captivity, all set against a dark, sensual and sumptuous North African burning backdrop.

Those familiar with the works of Bowles and the book might find the choice of Debra Winger as Kit a curious one; too much empathy, no jagged edge of existential angst and selfishness. In short, too homely and too damn nice for Paul Bowles’ Kit but perfect for Mark Peploe’s screenplay. The casting of Port to the terminally gloomy John Malkovich was, on the other hand, a no-brainer. He makes Jack Dee look sunny and cheerful. Whacked on the head by the misery stick at birth, the man oozes quiet disharmony and unquiet dissatisfaction in equal measure.

He plays the role of Port with aplomb. His love for, dependence on and despair with Kit is clear from the start; a life without her unthinkable. The film takes us on a terrible journey where this ‘life-without-her’ scenario moves from an increasing possibility to a foregone conclusion, with tragic consequences. The story is neatly punctuated by Tunner (Campbell Scott), a friend of both Kit and Port, providing the tension of temptation and enticing Kit’s prolonged fall into treachery. The casting of Timothy Spall as petty criminal Eric Lyle and Jill Bennett his mum Mrs Lyle, a perspicuous travel writer, only adds to film’s period and place authenticity.

The judicious casting and well-executed performances combine with the stunning imagery, hypnotic score, haunting narrative by Bowles and evocative cinematography, to make this film a powerful, thought-provoking masterpiece. My only word of caution would be to be careful who you watch this film with; taking your partner to see this film could have dangerous consequences. It could cast an unwelcome seed of doubt as to your compatibility, which could throw your own life into a “Portesque” nightmare.

My advice would be to go on your own, or with a friend, or someone you’re trying to impress who is seeing somebody else, where these seeds of doubt can grow in your favour. Yes, this film really is that potent.

Does it in some way undermine the author’s original ideas? Possibly, but ultimately it leaves you with a positive impression, despite the uncomfortable excursion into the mystery and misery of the human condition, and even provides hope for the human race.

138 mins. In English, French and Arabic.