The last five minutes of Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" is a sublimely spot-on graduation for its main character, an unripe American student on a proverbial journey of self-discovery in this erotic drama set against the backdrop of the 1968 Paris riots.
But in the preceding five reels, there isn't much I'd call compelling in its story of a trio of 20-year-old bohemian wannabe-intellectuals who have yet to be comfortable with their own identities, yet frequently launch into polemic and nebulously philosophical pontifications about politics and movies.
The narrating young drifter named Matthew (pouty, ambiguous Michael Pitt from "Hedwig and the Angry Inch") answers the siren song of Isbelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel), a pair of alluringly charismatic, possibly incestuous fraternal twins who invite the American to live in their large, labyrinthine flat for the summer while their bourgeoisie, former poet-bohemian parents are away on holiday.
Seduced by the siblings' outwardly uninhibited aimlessness -- which seems to him more exotic than his own by nature of being French and involving lots of cigarettes -- Matthew engages the easily riled brother in vague, circular political debates, and engages the enticing sister in sex, initially at her brother's insistence. It's Matthew's price for losing at the twins' favorite game of movie-scene charades, in which forfeit apparently always has a sexual price.
But the film's casually edgy eroticism and constant allusions to old movies (Bertolucci shows the relevant clips as the new friends race through the Louvre a la "Bande á part" and chant "One of us! One of us!" a la "Freaks") are in many ways a mask for the fact that Matthew, Theo and Isabelle aren't especially interesting people, except to each other. And as Matthew eventually comes to realize, what looks to an outsider like excitingly wayward worldliness in the twins is really a form of arrested development. Their emotions are so capricious and fleeting that Isabelle can be suicidal one minute and the next inappropriately giddy about joining a Molotov-cocktail-throwing student march.
Bertolucci has a penchant for art-house sensuality ("Last Tango in Paris," "Stealing Beauty"), but the nascent superficiality of these characters' impulsive psyches makes it difficult to invest yourself in their lives -- especially when the director distracts from the film's unpredictable passions with narrative inconsistencies.
At one point he goes out of his way to show that the salacious threesome is desperate and destitute, having burned through the money left by the twins' parents. But while none of them gets a job or finds any other source of income, their money woes are never mentioned again. In fact, Matthew and Isabelle go out to dinner at a nice restaurant barely two scenes later, as he tries to pry her away from her co-dependence on her brother.
Yet only as it approaches a crossroads-of-life climax does "The Dreamers" have anything of substance to say about its characters or their growth, and while the balance of the picture is never boring and the performances are often intense, it's surprisingly unengaging for a movie that revolves around sexual and emotional exploration.
Run time: 115 mins
In Theaters: Friday 10th October 2003
Box Office USA: $2.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $14.3M
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Production compaines: Peninsula Films
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%
Fresh: 95 Rotten: 61
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Starring: Michael Pitt as Matthew, Eva Green as Isabelle, Louis Garrel as Theo, Anna Chancellor as Mother, Robin Renucci as Father, Jean-Pierre Kalfon as Himself, Jean-Pierre Léaud as Himself, Florian Cadiou as Patrick, Pierre Hancisse as First Buff, Valentin Merlet as Second Buff, Lola Peploe as The Usherette, Ingy Fillion as Theo's Girlfriend
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