The Dreamers is a film dedicated to Film Noir and New Wave films. The film is set in Paris in 1968, where what began as a protest over usurped Henri Langlois, the founder of Cinematheque Francais, later exploded onto the streets of Paris and threatened to destroy its long standing government. That revolt and the state of flux that resulted from it are the backdrop and one of the cornerstones of Bertolucci’s film. This and other plot details make The Dreamers a film about self-discovery, love of the film industry, adolescence, puberty and learning to break the comfortable shells we live in.
The Dreamers is a film of startling moments, beauty and difficult scenes to sit through. Few films viewed this year have this pedigree. The Dreamers has some of the most visceral visuals the viewer may have ever seen and Bertolucci manages to handle and present them with a delicate, affectionate touch. Not many directors would dare film a vaginal-blood-smeared kiss or be able to turn revulsion into a genuine moment in the two main character’s lives that the audience can both appreciate and understand. Viewers of this film are lambasted with such “creative” scenes throughout The Dreamers‘ 115 minute running time. Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel) play sardonic siblings who think exactly alike, so much so that they are basically two halves of the same whole. When Matthew (Michael Pitt) comes into the picture, Isabelle and Theo know they have found that special person that will complete them. All three of them are college students, film buffs and have an uncanny retention of film details. Their love of cinema is used by Bertolucci as a device to present to the viewer notable films that most likely served to inspire him as a filmmaker.
Multiple classics films, some considered the backbone of modern cinema, are eluded to and referenced with exquisite care. Jean-Luc Godard’s 1959 film, Breathless, is one such film. Bertolucci, in one of the most wonderful moments in The Dreamers, shows his admiration for the French New Wave film by having Isabelle exclaim: “I entered this world on the Champs Elysees in 1959, and my very first words were: ‘New York Herald Tribune.’”
By viewing The Dreamers, the viewer is shaken out of what they are normally used to seeing in the theater, replicating the experience viewers had with last year’s Irreversible. Like that film, The Dreamers looks at events that happen in our everyday lives in an unglamorized, real way. Unlike Irreversible, these events are somewhat romanticized and produced with care, a possible by-product of Bertolucci’s affection for the history of his craft.
The acting in The Dreamers is good but Green’s performance is the standout. During a few notable scenes, including the scene that precedes the aforementioned kiss, you can clearly see the emotion that her character is feeling. When the trio’s questionable relationship is shaken by crashing, internal and external forces; their symbiosis cracks, fracturing their dynamic.
Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers is a rare film, a hard film to watch in some instances but a theatrical experience cinephiles will be able to appreciate, especially since it brings talented neophytes and note-worthy films to their attention.