The Dreamers (February 12/04)
A more cynical critic might guess that all the hubbub over The Dreamers being rated NC-17 was invented to disguise the fact that the film just isn't that good. Director Bernardo Bertolucci admittedly does a fine job of establishing the time and mood of '60s France, but fails completely in terms of creating compelling characters or an involving storyline.
Matthew (Michael Pitt) is in Paris as an exchange student, though he seems to spend more time at the movies than studying. During a demonstration to protest the closing of a local cinematheque, Matthew meets Isabelle (Eva Green) - a tenacious local with an obvious passion for film. She introduces him to her brother, Theo (Louis Garrel), and it's not long before Matthew agrees to move in with the pair (who are living with their often absent parents). Sexual experimentation and pompous discussions ensue.
Though The Dreamers is far from terrible, the movie is often unrelentingly tedious and dull. The first half hour, which is actually somewhat engaging, is in no way representative of what's to follow; it's only when the characters are fresh and new that we're able to enjoy the movie, as they eventually wear out their welcome. It's in the early portion of the film that Bertolucci piles on the movie references, both in the dialogue and through clips of classic French New Wave flicks, and it's only there does The Dreamers come alive. A spirited debate regarding the merits of Chaplin and Keaton is a perfect example of this, and other similar themed moments are equally intriguing.
But the problem is these characters just aren't as fascinating as Bertolucci clearly believes them to be, so when he drops the light-hearted tone of the first half in favor of a more introspective vibe, it's almost impossible to care. Though the performances are fine, these three actors aren't able to imbue these self-obsessed characters with the sort of qualities that would make us want to spend time with them. Their interminable political conversations are exacerbated by Bertolucci's refusal to clarify the ongoing riots that occur in the background (it's something to do with French students rebelling against the government); by not explaining the situation, even minutely, Bertolucci makes it almost impossible to understand Theo and Isabelle's fiery passion for the cause. We're presumably meant to identify with Matthew, but Pitt's blank stare and detached attitude prevents that from happening.
The Dreamers is clearly a personal story for Bertolucci, who - one would imagine - was in Paris during this tumultuous time. But it's also obvious that the director needed some distance from the material, as he's included some awfully insignificant moments (ie the search for food in their increasingly cluttered apartment). The bottom line is that the film just isn't terribly entertaining; Bertolucci seems to have made this movie for his personal enjoyment only, which is obnoxious to say the least.