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Review: “˜Dreamers’ falls short of potential

By Sommer Mathis

February 11, 2004 9:00 pm

“The Dreamers”
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Fox Searchlight Pictures

The fact that Fox Searchlight Pictures has dared to release an
uncut, overtly (if not overly) sexual Bernardo Bertolucci film and
appropriately label it as such ““ the film received the rare
NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association ““ is

Although few filmmakers besides the revered Bertolucci would
likely be given carte blanche to explore topics such as incest and
sexual manipulation, it is still encouraging to find that a major
studio is willing to stand behind an auteur’s right to create

The fact is, Bertolucci’s newest film, “The
Dreamers,” set in the midst of tumultuous Paris in 1968, is
not that great and falls far short of actually stirring any
controversy. Yes, there is a lot of full frontal nudity. And yes,
the film depicts a brother and sister in a terribly unhealthy,
confusing relationship. But the mixing of these racy elements with
what beyond them seems to be a love letter to Paris of the late
1960s only dilutes whatever potent cocktail Bertolucci hopes he has

The basic plot of the film involves a young American student
(Michael Pitt) moving in with a captivating pair of French siblings
while their parents are out of town, launching the three into a
series of escalating sexual dares. Having holed themselves up in
the apartment, discussing their love for cinema and popular music,
they also manage to all but ignore the strikes and protests going
on as a part of the growing youth movement on the streets of

The screenplay was adapted by English film critic Gilbert Adair
from his original novel, and Adair reportedly only agreed to the
project because he knew that Bertolucci had lived through the same
time in Paris as he had. Unfortunately, the result of their
collaboration is that you seem to have to actually be either
Bertolucci or Adair, or perhaps one of their next door neighbors in
Paris in ’68, to enjoy the film.

The somewhat disturbing sexual self-investigations of the three
beautiful, young characters are depicted in such a wistful,
romantic way. One can only imagine that to have been young and
beautiful in Paris at that time was to be so caught up in wistful
romance that you simply couldn’t be bothered by a little
incest, let alone an entire revolution going on in your back

Perhaps if Bertolucci were a less self-involved director, it
would be easier to get swept up by the romance of the film. Both
the photography and the impeccably chosen soundtrack offer windows
to the kind of film “The Dreamers” could have been. But
by failing to come to any satisfying conclusion about the fates of
these three lovingly drawn characters, Bertolucci has effectively
closed the curtains of his film to the outside world.

– Sommer Mathis

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Sommer Mathis
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