The Dreamers

The Dreamers throws down the gauntlet for the NC-17 rating and the MPAA. For years, studios have been afraid to release a movie rated NC-17, since theaters have threatened not to book it and papers have threatened to bar advertising. This rating replaced the X rating, which had become synonymous with pornography. Unfortunately, people automatically assumed that NC-17 also meant porn. Fear of lost revenue caused movies like Eyes Wide Shut to trim or edit scenes, and other movies like Requiem for a Dream and Sex and Lucia (great movies) and Romance and Fat Girl (not so great movies, both by Catherine Breillat) to come out unrated. In fact, the last movie to come out with an NC-17 rating was L.I.E., which went completely unnoticed by pretty much everybody. The most hypocritical element about this rating is that it is only for sexual content. The MPAA has gotten extremely lax in their ratings in recent years, especially in light of language. "Shit" and even "fuck" are appearing in PG-13 movies. Extremely gory films like Saving Private Ryan and Kill Bill Vol. 1 get R ratings when they should be NC-17. In this weird world, Billy Elliot is rated R and Whale Rider is PG-13, yet, The Cat in the Hat is rated PG.

It takes somebody like Bernardo Bertolucci to challenge the system. Bertolucci (Besieged, Stealing Beauty) has been making films for over forty years, and although his recent films have not been great, he is still considered an extremely gifted director. If he wants his film to remain uncut because of his artistic vision, then the studios sure as heck are going to let him. And a lot of credit should go to Fox Searchlight Pictures for releasing this film as NC-17. The option to watch a film like this should be there. Now, if only a better film were released to push the rating. Yes, there is full frontal male and female nudity, and some pretty graphic simulated sex, but like in many R and unrated movies, the sex and nudity is not necessary. Bertolucci can whine all he wants, but if he cut the nudity, the film would still have the same effect. The fact of the matter is, The Dreamers, adapted by Gilbert Adair (The Territory) from his novel, is unnecessarily explicit, perhaps to cause some controversy and attract some attention.

There are really two films happening here, mixed together unevenly. The first is an unabashed remembrance of classic film, and the second is the formulaic stranger in a strange land falling in love story where the experience has some profound effect on the main character, in this case, American student Matthew (Michael Pitt, Wonderland, Murder By Numbers), who is in Paris in 1968 studying French. He spends a lot of time watching classic films when the student riots eventually reared their ugly heads. He meets Theo (Louis Garrel, This Is My Body, Emergency Kisses) and Isabelle (Eva Green), two twins with an equal love of cinema. They invite him to live in their apartment, as their parents have just gone on a month-long vacation.

The Dreamers works when Bertolucci is waxing nostalgic about cinema. Theo and Isabelle know Matthew from the movies, where they notice he doesn't talk to anybody. The three of them share a love for movies, and talk endlessly about what they love. Bertolucci even has the actors (especially Green) act out scenes from their favorite films. A game the trio frequently plays is to act out a scene, then force the others to guess which film it is from. The references to classic film fly quickly across the screen, and most people will not know what Bertolucci is talking about. He even splices in clips from some films and then has Green act them out. Green is an utterly beguiling actress, and she is most sensuous when acting out these roles. Incidentally, she is clothed for most of these roles. Whenever she gets naked, it is just distracting. The one time where the nudity works is when she is the Venus de Milo, wrapped in a bed sheet and wearing long black gloves. The image is stark and beautiful.

Along with these innocent games comes a deeper, more disturbing subtext. Theo and Isabelle are extremely close to each other, closer than siblings should be. They are, in a sense, the same person, and there is something weird and seductive about that to Matthew. They play mind games with each other, tempting Matthew into kinky games of sex and dominance. Pitt, who looks like a mix between Leonardo DiCaprio and an early 90s Matthew Sweet, plays Matthew as naive and kind of stupid. His attraction to Isabelle prevents him from leaving. He is determined to enlighten the two by showing them that they don't need each other to survive, but he doesn't realize he is in way over his head. This element of The Dreamers is less interesting, since it essentially consists of the three holed up in the apartment daring each other to go further. Matthew successfully integrates himself into the bizarre dynamic, but, as the old adage goes, three is a crowd. Bertolucci then throws in some philosophizing about the Vietnam War and political theology, but, like the film as a whole, never amounts to much.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
2 hours, 15 minutes, Rated NC-17 for explicit sexual content.

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