tue 25/06/2024

Blu-ray: The Dreamers | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: The Dreamers

Blu-ray: The Dreamers

Bertolucci revisits May '68 via intoxicated, transgressive sex, lit up by the debuting Eva Green

Bedtime: Theo (Louis Garrel), Isabelle (Eva Green) and Matthew (Michael Pitt)

Isabelle (Eva Green) leans over, her long hair catches fire from a candle, and Matthew (Michael Pitt) devotedly snuffs it out. She doesn’t miss a beat at this real-life accident, consumed already by The Dreamers’ closed world of a Left Bank apartment in May ’68, where sexual transgression stands for the barricades and baton charges outside.

Bernardo Bertolucci’s adaptation of Gilbert Adair’s novel The Holy Innocents emphasises straight over gay sex, and further infuses it with cinephilia. Naïve American Matthew, bee-stung lips pursed and head tilted towards adventure, crosses the Seine to the Cinémathèque française, where Bertolucci crazily angles cascading images from Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963), communicating their transformative charge. In the cinema dark, Isabelle pulls a cigarette from the mouth of her fascinated, subordinate twin Théo (Louis Garrel). Outside, the authorities’ sacking of Cinémathèque boss Henri Langlois sparks speeches – Truffaut’s now ageing alter ego Jean-Pierre Leaud repeating his real ‘68 lines – and May’s conflagration. “The world finally broke through the screen,” Matthew notes. “Our own cultural revolution,” Théo breathes.

The Dreamers Blu-ray packshotMatthew is adopted into the twins’ rambling apartment, abandoned for the summer by their bourgeois parents. The trio are enraptured by each other, and cinema – which guides the way Isabelle leans, the things she says. Bertolucci slips Queen Christina’s Garbo and Blonde Venus’s Dietrich between his own film’s frames, and the soundtrack combines the Dead and Doors with Godard and Truffaut scores. “Like if the history of film was one long film,” the director says in the commentary, a blissful river joined by The Dreamers.

In 2003, and moreso viewed in 2024, Bertolucci was in danger of falling into a new sort of Cinéma du Papa, the outmoded generation maligned and overtaken by his nouvelle vague hero Godard. The 63-year-old was still transfixed by straight sexual liberation and getting beautiful young actors to disrobe – from Last Tango in Paris (1972) to the lingering fetishisation of Liv Tyler in his previous film, Stealing Beauty (1996), to the graphic nudity of The Dreamers’ neophyte cast (it was Green’s first time on screen, with only Gus Van Sant favourite Pitt remotely experienced).

Adair’s script – constantly revised onset – has Théo call directors dirty voyeurs and criminals, and Bertolucci gladly accepts the latter term in this release’s extras. The Dreamers seems proudly voyeuristic, though Adair contends it is the opposite, as the camera “participates” in the sex. He is anyway amused by his friend Bertolucci’s refusal to act his age and draw back from youthful sexuality. “Because the bodies are beautiful, which they are, let’s celebrate them,” Adair breezily argues, though of course it’s the actors who are exposed. Bertolucci got them all used to nudity on the sequential shoot in a real Paris apartment block, which seems to have become an Eden, with Green imagining herself costumed as she acted, and shocked to see the graphic reality. When the grown-ups return, and her mum (Anna Chancellor) glimpses the naked trio entangled in bed, Isabelle is also, like Eve, mortally ashamed.Eve Green and Louis Garrel in The DreamersLike Last Tango, which for all Bertolucci’s now infamous abuse of Maria Schneider remains a great film about death refracted through sex and stubborn traces of love, with Brando plumbing psychic depths in his greatest, in a way final performance, The Dreamers’ eroticism has a point. Bertolucci wanted his cast to feel how ’68 sought to create a utopia through constant transgression. There is clearly a curdling decadence to the twins’ desires as the apartment becomes an unconscious prison for this society of three, who fall together into bathtub lassitude and sweat. But there is also positive purpose to the visceral heat of the sex, and intense, close-up display of bodies – Pitt’s penis thickly spilling out of his trousers, Green’s full breasts and red vulva as she languidly reclines, and each actor's feral thickets of pubic hair, all filmed by cinematographer Fabio Cianchetti in a sensual play of light and shadow. The lustily unabashed becomes normal. For Bertolucci, actors’ and characters’ names became interchangeable as they merged into their roles in the hothouse apartment, and his film’s physical and psychological revelations headed further out. The script’s borders of sin (primarily incest, a regular Bertolucci theme) are tested by these innocents, but not breached.Michael Pitt, Eva Green and Louis Garrel in The DreamersThe gay sex of Adair’s novel felt too much for Bertolucci, a decision perhaps showing his age. As he notes, though, Last Tango’s “much more dramatic and aggressive” mood was replaced 20 years later by “the lightness of these young characters” in The Dreamers. Green, a Last Tango fan since seeing it aged 12, gratefully agrees.

Our strange present moment of greater sexual acceptance, online omni-porn and sexually cautious, prim mainstream cinema and mores seems to view the Sixties and Seventies which birthed Bertolucci as wild, likely abusive terrain. Benignly revisiting this epoch, The Dreamers’ frank if finally exhausted eroticism invites us to get lost in the ride.

This release includes Blu-ray and 4K UHD discs, from prints restored under cinematographer Cianchetti, and contemporary bonus material including David Thompson’s featurettes Cinema, Sex and Politics: Bertolucci Makes The Dreamers and The Making of The Dreamers, short separate interviews from these docs and thoughtful commentary by Bertolucci, his faithful producer Jeremy Thomas and Adair.

There is positive purpose to the visceral heat of the sex, and intense, close-up display of bodies

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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