Friday, July 13, 2007

THE DREAMERS - less Tango more self-indulgence

In a week when Bertolucci's greatest film, LAST TANGO IN PARIS, is released again in the UK, let's take a look at his 2003 release, THE DREAMERS. Both films deal with self-realisation through transgressive sexual relationships and put cinephilia cetre stage. But, separated by thirty years, Berolucci treats the subjects rather differently.

TANGO is a 100% Bertolucci product mediated by Brando. The sexual obsession with a random younger woman stems from his own fantasies, as does the need to put a film-maker centre stage. The brutality and the refusal to opt for easy choices (up until the final scene) are pure anti-Hollywood, as is the visual experimentation.

THE DREAMERS is a different beast, not least because Bertolucci is mediating the memoirs of Gilbert Adair. He tells the story of a young American (Michael Pitt) who arrives in Paris on the eve of the 1968 riots. He is taken up by an eccentric brother and sister (Louis Garrel and Eva "Casino Royale" Green). Soon they are abandoned in their parents decadent apartment and enter into an incestuous menage a trois while Paris burns outside their window. At first, the American is entranced by their chic and cine-literacy. When he asks the sister how old she is, she responds, a la Jean Seberg, "I entered this world on the Champs-Elysees, 1959. La trottoir du Champs Elysees. And do you know what my very first words were? New York Herald Tribune! New York Herald Tribune!" The American is flattered and seduced by the siblings declaration that "We accept you, one of us! One of us!" As their relationship deepends he realises that he may not be as accepting of their transgressive behaviour as they are. To be one of them is to be, to some extent, a freak. Their relationship is, then, ultimately doomed.

THE DREAMERS is as courageous in portraying sexual relationships as TANGO but lacks the emotional depth. Furthermore, unshackled from the intensity and brutality of emotional discoveries made in TANGO, Bertolucci is free to indulge his love of the French New Wave. THE DREAMERS is a web of references to and re-enactments of seminal scenes from cinema history. To that end, it's a joyful puzzle for cinema fans, but I suspect something of a bore for casual viewers. It's not just cinema history that's under the 'scope, but the very means by which we take in moving images. In a key scene, the American takes the Sister to the cinema. She instinctively goes to the first row, where the cinephiles sit. But the American wants her to sit in the back row, like on a real date, where the point of being there is to kiss rather than watch the art.

"Why do we sit so close? Maybe it was because we wanted to receive the images first. When they were still new, still fresh. Before they cleared the hurdles of the rows behind us. Before they'd been relayed back from row to row, spectator to spectator; until worn out, secondhand, the size of a postage stamp, it returned to the projectionist's cabin. Maybe, too, the screen was really a screen. It screened us... from the world."

Overall then, THE DREAMERS is a cinephile's delight. The lush photography and production design; the cinema references and the decent performances from the leads make it a worthwhile experience. But it does not have the profound impact of TANGO.

THE DREAMERS was originally released in 2003 and is available on DVD.

No comments:

Post a Comment