dir: Bernardo Bertolucci
[img_assist|nid=115|title=Un Pie American, Bertolucci style|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=200]
Sure, Bernardo Bertolucci is an acclaimed director. But like every acclaimed director, he has a bunch of stinkers to his credit as well. In such a case, you greet the release of one of his new films thinking less "Great! Another film from a cinematic master!" and more "what have you done for me lately, prick?" And since my answer to him on that topic is "not much, chuckles", it's understandable that I'd have some trepidation walking into this film.
Also curiousity. I haven't liked a Bertolucci film since The Last Emperor. It's not that I've been avoiding his work, I haven't (much to my regret). It's just the only emotions that the films in between then and now inspire in me are boredom or downright irritation. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I outright hated Besieged, Stealing Beauty, Little Buddha and especially The Sheltering Sky. In fact I would go so far as to say my greatest difficulty is in deciding which of those four I hate the most, because they all anger me on different levels and for different reasons.
But I still admire and respect the man for the great films he has made. No matter how awful a run a director has, the great films they may have made stay just as amazing. I mean, my deep admiration for directors like Kathryn Bigelow, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola
and Abel Ferrara means that in loving some of their films, I have to ignore my deep hatred for some of their other works, in some cases
(like Ferrara) the majority of their films. Bertolucci is no different. I admire and adore the man for his early masterpieces like The Conformist, The Spider's Stratagem and Novecento (1900), to a lesser extent for Last Tango in Paris, and for his involvement with Sergio Leone and Dario Argento on Once Upon a Time in the West, but then his work for more than the last decade horrifies me. Just thinking about how much I hate his more recent flicks makes me want to track him down and punch him in the nuts until his face turns purple.
It's hard to handle the idea of not knowing whether you want to shake a guy's hand for the good work his done, or rip his hand off and slap
him to death with it for the bad stuff.
It's with that insane level of irrational, existential fear that I approached The Dreamers. I'd heard about it due to the minor controversy (for me, I'm sure it was a big deal for the people involved) over the MPAA in the States refusing to classify the film as an R, requiring Bertolucci to make certain cuts. He refused and it thus received by default the infamous and economically suicidal rating of NC-17. It wasn't a problem in any other country in the rest of the world. Strange, that.
Other than that all I knew is that is was set in Paris, during the heady pseudo-revolutionary days of 1968, and that at least in part it was meant to be a homage to the French New Wave and cinema in general. As someone that loves film, sure, I'll admit that a scenario like that beckons to me like a glass of quality single malt whisky. Hmm, whisky.
Add to that the probability of seeing a hot naked woman, and it's a winner! I mean, it's not as if anyone could get to see a woman's boobies in any other context. So naturally it makes sense that the main female character spends most of the film with her, to quote Viz comics from a long time ago, 'tits out for the lads'. Not only that, but old perv Uncle Bernardo sneaks in a shot of parts of her anatomy you wouldn't expect to see on display in any film that doesn't require people wiping themselves down afterwards with a towel or two.
And what wonderful breasts they are too. Eva Green may or may not possess any acting ability or skill, and it's not going to matter. All Bernie presumably wanted from her was her two greatest assets out on display at a moment's notice. Apart from that she is expected to act like a stereotype both of women in general and of French women specifically (passionate, promiscuous, sexually voracious, irrational, tempestuous, violently bipolar, insanely jealous and suicidal). Which, for all I know, is absolutely accurate.
For a film alleged to be dripping in sex like a remodelled First Tango in Paris during the Summer of Love in '68 for a young, naïve American, it's simultaneously about more and less at the same time. Yes, I know you think I'm being a pretentious fucker, but I stand by my statements. Well, at least most of them. Yes there is sex in the film. No it doesn't constitute much of its running time, as in the actual depiction of it. But its importance is more in the way in which it can be used to fuck with someone's head moreso than any other part of their anatomy.
It's more about cinema itself, and politics. Film is central to the lives of our three crazy main characters, in the way that pop music, The naively democratic Matthew (Michael Pitt) argues politics idealistic against the fervent communist dogma of Theo (Louis Garrel, who does most of the heavy lifting in the acting department). Their approaches to film, music, sexuality arises from cultural and personal difference despite the fact that they love the same movies, the same music, the same experiences.
Kind of a comment on how people who love exactly the same amount of stuff can still have completely diametrically opposed views on life, which is unlikely to be a mystery to anyone.
Interspersed between their various arguments and the stakes being upped in the psychosexual gameplaying, they recreate scenes from many of the classics of the New Wave (Breathless, A Band Apart) and earlier films (Blonde Venus, Queen Christina, the original Scarface) So it is a film ultimately in love with movies, with youth itself and the youthful desire for revolution. The references themselves, well, it'll depend on your mood rather than your knowledge of film history whether you find it enjoyable or not. If you're in a good mood it might bring a smile to your face or a nostalgic twinge in your pants. If you're in a shitty mood, then you're going to think 'If these films are so good, and I wanted to see THEM, then I would have gone and watched those fucking films instead. Not this one, Signore Bertolucci, you randy old goat.'
Plenty of mediocre films and a very small number of great films openly or obliquely reference other, older and better films. The simple fact that the film is in love with cinephilia (which is as appropriate a metaphor for someone disappearing up their own anus as I've ever seen) makes you wonder whether the film could stand on its own without them. Or not. Bernie may have constructed the film as a love letter (a phrase I'm beginning to hate in its application to the purpose of some movies, ie. Almost Famous was Cameron Crowe's love letter to the music of the 70s, O Brother Where Art Thou? was the Coen Brother's love letter to the Ku Klux Klan etc) to the cinema that inspired him and the great time he had in the 60s, but it's suffocating underneath the elements of a tepid melodrama that wouldn't have been out of place in one of the earlier Virginia Andrews masterworks like Flowers in the Attic.
Well, in fact, I'd say the film is next to worthless without that film lover aspect, and not much above worthless with it included. Sure it gives me a lovely tingle in my groin to know many of the films and the references, and to know who Marcel Carne, Henri Langlois, Truffaut, Goddard and all the rest are without having to look it up on Google, to know the importance that Cahiers du Cinema played and what the
French New Wave tried to achieve. And yes it did mean I enjoyed those aspects initially. I never got over the impression that it was extremely self-indulgent and pretentious, however. That's not necessarily a criticism. It is, but it doesn't have to be.
Our entry into the film is through Matthew, the young idealistic American who materialises underneath a lengthy shot scrolling down the length of the Eiffel Tower. He is studying in Paris and in love with the place, in love with the French passion for cinema. Through this he meets Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo, who drag him willingly into their strange and psychotic world of sexual one-upmanship and nerdy film knowledge. As he is lonely, and Eva's about the finest thing he's ever seen, naturally he is drawn to them. When he finds out just how close brother and sister are, at first it repulses him, for at least a few seconds. I guess the prospect of getting to fuck Isabelle seems worth putting up with the insanity that surrounds her, which is something plenty of people have told themselves on a Friday night since time immemorial.
The vast majority of the film takes place in their massive apartment, decrepit and decadent, the perfect set for their shenanigans, no doubt, but it gets a tad claustrophobic, which was probably deliberate.
In a strange, call me insane if you hadn't already way, this film ultimately ends up being Bertolucci's take on the sex comedy genre, very much like the pastry-fucking saga American Pie, but admittedly from some alternate, bizarro universe. In a tortured way, almost as tortured as that last sentence, what parts of The Dreamers some critics use to illustrate Berto's 'boldness' or 'maturity' as a film maker would be derided in a teen comedy as crass, lowest common denominator bodily functions humour. I'm not kidding. If I described
some of the individual elements to you without you knowing which film I was talking about, it would be a ball-scratcher of a question figuring out which one it came from.
Guy uses toothbrush that's accidentally dropped in urine? Man accidentally smears the blood from a girl's ruptured hymen on her face? Guy caught with a stolen picture of a girl wrapped around his dick? Woman runs her hand over recently ejaculated semen on a poster of Marlene Dietrich? Guy fucks a pie?
Of course it's not what elements you include in the creation of a film, it's how you use them.
I have no negative feelings towards Michael Pitt, as our protagonist. Sure, he looks awfully like an even girlier version of Leonardo Di Caprio, and has lips so pouty that you just want to slap him, but mostly he's pretty good in the role. I've liked him since I saw him in Hedwig and the Angry Inch a few years ago, and I think he did okay here. His character doesn't have much scope for growth, however.
Instead of realising that he needs to get away from those two lunatics as quickly as humanly possible, he sticks around way too long, almost until it's too late. Naïve enough to think that he can not only integrate himself into their complicated dynamic, but sever the closeness of the bond between brother and sister, if nothing else the ending reveals how little he actually understood them or himself. So his character arc is basically naïve idealistic youth who has a strange experience for a while and ends up a naïve idealistic youth.
But at least he got to have sex with Isabelle, eh? Eh? The interactions between brother and sister, sister and Matthew, brother and Matthew are interesting at first, sure. I'll give them that. But it gets tiresome as it goes on. By the time the end credits ran I was glad it was over, because the last half hour dragged. And whilst the music as those credits rolled was Edith Piaf warbling about regretting nothing, I regretted the fact that I got so little out of a film I'd invested 2 hours of my time and a fair amount of goodwill in.
I felt quite gypped, I must say. I get the feeling that Berto, who is in his mid sixties now, is probably impotent. His need to have constant nudity around so he can virtually fuck his actors with the camera is probably the high point of his current life. I don't really find anything he may have pretended to say about sexuality or Eva Green's labia during the course of the film anything other than facile. Sure I love seeing naked women. But I'm lucky enough to be able to see them for free. In the privacy of my own home. On a live woman as well. Without having to pay 12 bucks to see them either.
Of course we pay in other ways, but that's by the by. Like most guys, though I truly love breasts, on the silver screen if they're not doing something interesting then after a while they're just a functional part of the human anatomy. At the very least she should have gotten them to do tricks. Like the thing with the tassels that strippers used to do. When nudity becomes boring, it adds nothing to a film.
Uitimately what I'm saying is that the first part of the film had me, but then it lost me emotionally and intellectually by the end. I really didn't care for the characters, or what was happening inside or outside their apartment. They're such bland characters (except for the guy playing Theo) that nothing that involves any of them seems that important. Eva Green is hot, but so are a billion other actresses, including hundred of thousands of women from the former Soviet union willing to earn some hard currency and not afraid to get their twins out. She (Eva) is mostly mediocre, though not without her charms. My favourite scene (in a film completely lacking original ideas as it is) involving her, at least from a visual point of view is where she cleverly dresses to transform herself into the Venus de Milo.
I found the ending deeply unsatisfying. I didn't have a particular preference for where it should have gone, but where it did go made me feel like the journey there was kind of pointless.
Pointless is as pointless does. Films like this, especially those relegated to the ghetto of arthouse cinema, aren't afraid to be self-indulgent or pretentious. Hell, if I was to deride something or someone for doing that I'd have to ignore the fact that what I'm doing right now is essentially self-indulgent and pretentious. And sure, it's starts off entertaining enough, but like one of my reviews it goes on for too long repeating itself and then peters out like a spent erection, leaving none of us satisfied.
At the very least I hope Bertolucci enjoyed making it, the dirty DIRTY old bugger.
6 ruptured hymens out of 10
"I want you to do it like the times you think no-one is watching you"
- Isabelle, The Dreamers