For director Bernardo Bertolucci, the sensual coexists with the
 political. His films explore themes of the actual politics of sex
Besieged, Last Tango in Paris) or the sex in politics (1900,
  The Last Emperor
). So it may seem inevitable that he would be
 attracted to Scottish author Gilbert Adair's novel
The Holy Innocents
 which serves as the basis for The Dreamers.

         Both Adair and Bertolucci were enamored of the French
 Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) in the mid- to late 1960s. The novel and
 film are set in the pivotal year of 1968, a time of social upheaval and
 unrest. The main character is Matthew (Michael Pitt), who tells the
 audience in voiceover:  "The first time I laid eyes on the Cinémathèque
 Française, I thought -- only the French. Only the French would house
 a cinema in a palace."

         Thus the viewer is initiated into Matthew's rarefied world as a
 cineaste as he attends screenings at the Cinémathèque. When the
 French government attempted to close it down, there was rioting in
 the streets. Bertolucci recreates this action nicely and it serves as the
 backdrop for a "meet cute" between Matthew and the very odd twins
 Isabelle (Eva Green) and Théo (Louis Garrel). The brother and sister
 invite the young American back to their home where their British
 mother (Anna Chancelor) and French philosopher father (Robin Rennuci)
 are preparing to embark on a vacation. Matthew basically moves in
 with the twins and therein begins the tale.

         The threesome debate, arguing over whether Chaplin is better
 than Keaton and debate the merits of director Nicholas Ray, talk politics,
 and playing film games. The latter allows Bertolucci to intercut scenes
 from films as diverse as
Blonde Venus (1932), Queen Christina (1933),
Bande à part (1964). These film games soon take on a more
 sinister tenor as Isabelle and Théo add an element of sexuality to
 them. When her brother fails to identify correctly Isabelle's imitation
 of Dietrich, she forces him to masturbate in front of a poster of the
 movie queen, in full view of herself and an embarrassed Matthew.
 When Matthew fails to answer correctly, Théo orders him to have
 sex with Isabelle on the kitchen floor, and then he proceeds to make
 an omelet while the couple writhes around.

         As in
Last Tango in Paris and Besieged, Bertolucci contains
 most of the action to an apartment in the French capital. Although,
 there are hints of homoeroticism between Matthew and Théo (and
 in the novel it was very explicit), the director chose to omit that
 aspect from his film. Therefore, the psycho-sexual drama between
 the game-playing siblings is muted. (It also doesn't help that despite
 insinuations of incest, the audience is told that Isabelle was a virgin.)
 Eva Green looks lovely but she hasn't yet developed as an actress to
 fully project the admixture of temptress and control. Louis Garrel fares
 much better, and indeed, gives perhaps the best performance of the
 three leads. American Michael Pitt struggles a bit with his role, but
 ultimately grows in conviction as he questions the morality of what
 is unfolding.

         As with all of Bertolucci's output,
The Dreamers is beautiful
 looking, with special  kudos to cinematographer Fabio Cianchetti
 and production designer Jean Rabasse. There is indeed a dreamlike
 quality to the tale, a tone that is literally shattered by breaking glass
 as the student riots of 1968 intrude on the lives of the threesome.
 It is a moment that works nicely and sets up the inevitable ending.

Rating:                       B
MPAA Rating:              NC-17 for explicit sexual content.
Running time:             115 mins.

                          Viewed at the Fox Screening Room

© 2008 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.