It’s been quite a long time since the MPAA bestowed the dreaded NC-17 rating to a flick. Six years, in fact. That’s the rating that nonpornographic films receive whenever they’re so bold as to display penises for longer than a few seconds on the screen.
Famed Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci’s film The Dreamers undoubtedly received the rating for the above offense. There’s plenty of swinging dick, areolae the size of teacup saucers and enough bare ass to satisfy those who haven’t figured out how to get this stuff off the Internet. Then there are others who go to art house movies simply to satisfy their desire to see naked foreigners talk philosophy, politics and poetry before they put down their wine glasses and get to banging. Then there is the audience that goes to a Bertolucci flick for all the sumptuous visuals, the rich color and gorgeous atmosphere in every scene. They come for the raw and bittersweet emotion he mines while telling his story. Both camps will get what they’re looking for in The Dreamers.
Bertolucci, perhaps best known to American audiences for his controversial use of butter in 1972’s Last Tango in Paris, revisits the romantic locale for his latest offering. Instead of a sulking, raging and naked Marlon Brando, this time Bertolucci employs three young and beautiful film buffs who sulk and rage and get naked while drinking wine and smoking pot in 1968 Paris. Matthew (Michael Pitt), an American, arrives in Paris to study French (and perhaps to avoid American military conscription?) and to go to the Cinematheque every night to soak in as many of the American classics and New Wave films as he can get his eyeballs around. The Cinematheque caters to all the college students and intellectuals, artists and poseurs of the fine city, and Matthew soon comes across two of the stranger ones in twins Theo and Isabelle. Isabelle (Eva Green) has sexy eyes and sexy lips and sexy hair and wears sexy clothes and a sexy beret and talks oh-so-sexy when Matthew finds her chained to their beloved Cinematheque at the Musee du Cinema.
Why is she chained to it? She’s protesting its closure, which for some reason the government has done to further piss off an already fomenting student body. She introduces Matthew to her brother, Theo (Louis Garrel), by commenting how much her brother smells like shit. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, with his sexy curly hair and sexy nose and oh-so-sexy French accent. Within a few minutes of meeting him, however, with an exploration of his bedroom and a couple of his “idiosyncrasies,” you’ll believe Isabelle that Theo most assuredly smells of shit.
The twins soon adopt Matthew, inviting him to spend a month at their dark and oh-so-sexy apartment while their parents vacation in the French countryside. Their father is a writer and poet, a man past his prime who argues with his son about the futility of the boy’s desire for revolution in the streets. The mother is an oh-so-sexy Englishwoman exasperated with her two petulant and spoiled offspring. At dinner, before the parents take off on vacation, the strange and overtly sexual dynamic of the family is on display, as well as the tension and frustration that must have plagued a lot of families at the time. These kids aren’t just rebelling and bitching about not getting the family sedan on a Saturday night. Their parents aren’t just parents, they’re bourgeois pigs who need to get re-educated out on a farm when the Maoists finally get things in order. Well, at least Theo thinks so, when he’s not snuggling and caressing and looking lovingly, and at times hatefully, into his sister’s eyes. As the politics in the street heat up, so does the turmoil and angst in all of them, leading to a fiery and inevitable climax.
The Dreamers probably won’t get as much attention as Bertolucci’s 1987 Academy Award-winning The Last Emperor. It’s a much smaller and much more personal story, not as grand or epic. But it is an interesting tale, beautifully shot, despite its slightly stale “turbulent ’60s” motif.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].