The Dreamers

In The Dreamers, Matthew (played by Michael Pitt), a twenty-year-old college student from San Diego, decides to live in Paris during 1968 so that he can learn French. One of the best ways to learn a language is to see a film in one’s own tongue with subtitles in the language to be learned. Accordingly, Matthew leaves his cheap hotel each day to see classic movies, becomes an expert of sorts on filmography, but has no friends other than his pen pal mother. One day, the authorities close the Cinémathèque Française where he has been going, presumably because Henri Langlois, the organizer, is a rival to André Malraux, the Minister of Culture. A crowd of young people then assembles before the cinema to protest. When Matthew approaches the locked gates of the moviehouse, he encounters Isabelle (played by Eva Green), who has a conversation with him in English and then introduces him to her fraternal twin, Theo (played by Louis Garrel). While the police move in to assault the demonstrators, the three escape the brutality, continue talking, and soon they invite Matthew to dine at their St. Germaine apartment. At the dinner table, he meets their English mother (played by Anna Chancellor) and French father (played by Robin Renucci). The father is a poet who loves to make pseudophilosophical remarks, though there is an obvious “generation gap” between father and son regarding the student protest and similar radical activities in the recent past. While the father pontificates over the dinner table, Matthew expresses his boredom by playing with a cigarette lighter, whereupon the father asks him why he is so fascinated; when Matthew responds pseudophilosophically, the father is impressed. Soon, Eva and Theo invite Matthew to check out of the hotel where he is staying so that he can live with them in the spare bedroom. Their common interest is in films, and cuts from classic films serve to explain some of their silly antics. When the parents go out of town for a holiday, what ensues is a coming-of-age experience for all three, though perhaps more for Matthew than for the incestuous twins. The special treat in store for filmviewers is that The Dreamers, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, pushes the envelope of full frontal exposure and sexual experience far beyond his earlier Last Tango in Paris (1972), nearly to the point of meriting an X rating. However, the sexual exploration takes time away from student protest activities. When they resume political agitation, police are poised to put down a Maoist demonstration that develops from the Cinémathèque closure, and The Dreamers becomes much more clearly a noir film. Nevertheless, the retrospective to the late 1960s, when the French bitterly opposed American militarism (as they did in 2003), is a paradigm for the only revolution that the politicians could not stop–sexual liberation. Based on Gilbert Adair’s novel The Holy Innocents: A Romance (1988), which has been re-released as The Dreamers (2003), the film The Dreamers also raises one question: “What happened to the ideals of the Flower Children?” Two alternative answers disturbingly appear in the last frames of the film. MH

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