The 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.