In The Dreamers 64 year old director Bernardo Bertolucci goes back to Paris to tell an introspective tale of obsession, passion and sexual initiation within a m?ge ?rois set against the background of the student riots in 1968. In reality, he unfolds a type of tribute film to La Cin?th?e Fran?se and French New Wave filmmakers such as Truffaut and Godard. The Parma-born Italian is a self-confessed Francophile who read Gilbert Adair’s 1988 novel, The Holy Innocents, and found within it another opportunity to tell a story which, he says, like all of his films, is part of his life.
Bertolucci is best known for his award-winning films Last Tango in Paris (1973), The Last Emperor (1987) and The Conformist (1970) although, ironically, he received an Oscar nomination for the screenplay of his first film, Prima della rivoluzione (1964). Bertolucci is the son of a poet and got his start in films when he was 21, working as a production assistant on Accattore (1961) with his father’s friend, Pier Pasolini. Before that he had been in Paris -“ at the Cin?th?e, of course -“ meeting people and seeing a jumble of films that would later influence the aesthetic of his own filmmaking.
Bertolucci likes to introduce relatively unknown faces in his films, like he did when he cast 21 year old Maria Schneider as a foil to Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris. This time round he has cast 22 year old Michael Pitt, formerly of Dawson’s Creek soap fame who broke with TV to star in Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Bully, as the na? San Diego boy dressed in a suit that doesn’t fit who has come to Paris to experience life. Bertolucci really wanted Jake Gyllenhaal for the role but in the end Pitt, a Di Caprio look-alike, prevailed. To fill the roles of the French twins he cast 23 year old Parisienne stage player Eva Green, daughter of French actress Marlene Jobert who once starred opposite Kirk Douglas in To Catch a Spy (1971), and Louis Garrel, son of French director Philippe Garrel and grandson of veteran French actor, Maurice Garrel.
Unfortunately The Dreamers is no masterpiece of fresh ideas. Most of the action takes place indoors, forcing an insular, claustrophobic sense on the audience as we are dragged into this coldly self-absorbed study of the lives of two spoilt French middle class brats who have nothing better to do than reenact films and play endless spin-the-bottle type film quiz games. Sex, vagina shots, limp penises and full frontal nudity are affectations of this slight and vacuous story that becomes nullifyingly boring in the end. The only light relief is to be found in the tributes made throughout the film to a wide range of cinematic genres from Chaplin to Godard.
Bertolucci was 28 in 1968 and you have to ask yourself what he remembers of the student unrest in Paris. Is The Dreamers an expression of his contempt for the communistic thinking of the time or does he think this is a take on Nouvelle Romanticism?