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Fox Home Entertainment presents
"You two are like two halves of the same person. Now you've made me feel like I'm a part of you."
DVD ReviewIt's no mystery to divine that two of Bernardo Bertolucci's great passions are movies and sex, and his love for each animate The Dreamers. It achieved a certain amount of notoriety during its initial theatrical release, for being the first major studio picture in a good long while to go out with an NC-17 rating; but it feels like part of Bertolucci's world, it's very much a film in the same vein as Last Tango in Paris. Something about that city must make Bertolucci purr like a kitten, or think prurient thoughts; then again, perhaps that's endemic to his way of thinking, for if you remember his Oscar acceptance speech, he referred to Los Angeles as "The Big Nipple."
And The Dreamers is very much in that spirit—heartfelt and passionate, but occasionally a little embarrassing, a middle-aged reminiscence on what it was like back in the day, no doubt clouded by nostalgia. The story centers on Matthew, a college-aged American in the City of Light for that critical summer of 1968; he knows no one in town, and takes comfort and refuge in the legendary Cinématheque, the revival house screening anything and everything, ground zero for the film education of the directors and students of the nouvelle vague. The passion with which they all watch and talk about movies is a reminder of what a fleeting and precious commodity they were in the days before video—sure, TV would run some things, but the only place to go to school on Samuel Fuller or Nicholas Ray or Josef von Sternberg was at the movie theater, on celluloid. Matthew meets up with an intriguing set of twins, as transported by movies as he is: Isabelle has a dangerous gleam in her eye for Matthew, and Theo does too. Most of the picture is a triangle, then, playing out the various permutations in the relationships between brother and sister and their new American friend.
Isabelle and Theo invite Matthew to dinner, and what the American finds is his dream version of a French family: father is a poet, mother is charming, they all smoke and drink lots of red wine and discuss politics and philosophy. Good fortune strikes: the parents are on their way out of town for a month, and their children invite Matthew to move from his fleabag hotel into their rambling apartment. They become a tightly knit little triad, with great passion for film: the boys nearly come to blows as to who is better, Chaplin or Keaton; and they routinely restage scenes from their favorite movies, such as their dash through the Louvre, in imitation of Bande ą part. Isabelle and Theo take great pains to show off their sophistication; of course, this only points up just how juvenile they are. Bertolucci intercuts his actors with the movies of their characters' dreams, and it's artfully done, the films in their heads coming stunningly to life, for them and for us.
And so now let's talk about the nudity. Given the film's rating, even if you're caught up in the story, you'll probably start asking yourself: so just when are they gonna get nekkid? Well, they do, and frequently—Bertolucci's camera lingers especially sensually over the body of Eva Green, who plays Isabelle and is called upon to spend more time unclothed on camera than either of the boys. (Isn't that always the way?) Of course, if you're looking for porn, Bertolucci isn't the place to start; and he knows it, too. After their odd couplings—Theo clearly has a thing for Matthew, and things between the twins get very Secret History very quickly—Matthew takes Isabelle out on a proper date, her first; and in many respects the sexiest thing in the movie is not seeing Green or Michael Pitt, who plays Matthew, without their clothes on, but the two of them making out in a back row of a darkened movie theater, furtive, delighted with one another, in love.
It also makes you realize that, even after the hothouse scenes in the apartment, we don't know a whole lot about these characters. Matthew especially seems more a type than a person—California boy who isn't in school and isn't in Vietnam, but is in Paris principally to serve the story needs. He's also given a fair amount of banal voiceovers, which only further the idea that the filmmakers don't care much about him. But the passions between the young people, and of all of them for movies, is palpable, if not necessarily contagious; Bertolucci has made a film that seems rich and evocative of his own memories, but may not stir up some of your own.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The transfer has been elegantly done, with full rich colors and true skin tones; it's a valentine not only to Bertolucci's actors, but to Paris. A clean job, with little or no evident debris introduced in the port over to DVD.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Dynamic levels in the 5.1 track tend to be a little funky; you may find yourself fussing with the volume control, between Pitt's reedy narration, frequently overcranked source music, and the atmospherics of France. But it's generally pretty clear, with a minimal amount of hiss.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Garden State
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Bernardo Bertolucci, Gilbert Adair, Jeremy Thomas
More informative are the two accompanying documentaries. The BBC produced the first, Bertolucci Makes The Dreamers (52m:24s), with lots of footage from the set, interviews with the cast and filmmakers, and a fair amount of material on the historical context, with clips from the Paris re-created here. Even more effective on this point, and in less time, is Outside the Window: Events in France, May 1968 (14m:25s), a day-by-day account of that tumultuous month, intercut with the filmmakers' own remembrances of the time. Shorter still and certainly not worth watching is Hey Joe (03m:41s), a music video directed by Bertolucci of a run-of-the-mill song used in the feature, poorly sung by Michael Pitt and the Twins of Evil.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsBertolucci loves making movies about things you do in the dark, and his fascinations with cinema and sexual discovery inform every scene of The Dreamers. You have to admire the director's ambition, and the recklessness with which he breaks down barriers; even if his risky choices here don't always work, the film brims over with his passions, even if the MPAA disapproves.
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