In the spring of 1968, Paul McCartney sang: “Hey Jude, you’ll do, the movement you need is on your shoulders.” But in the case of French siblings Isabelle (Eva Green) and Théo (Louis Garrel), the movement they need is in their trousers. Michael Pitt plays the American in Paris who comes into their lives, much like Gene Kelly did in, you know, “An American in Paris”, or more aptly, like the then not-so-morbidly obese Marlon Brando in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Last Tango in Paris”.
The Italian filmmaker is still very fond of bare flesh, but also of cinema itself and politics. His intention here is for the three to become one and the same, for these “dreamers” and for the audience, maybe as it is for himself, but this doesn’t quite work out.
The endless name-dropping, homage and quoting (verbal of visual) of various movies, stars and directors is clever and enjoyable enough, but it kinda fades away halfway into the picture when it all becomes about naked frolicking. Likewise, between the two manifestations which bookend the film, politics are little more than a few short exchanges of ideas sprinkled through all the humping.
So, what of the sex which occupies most of the running time and earned “The Dreamers” that dreaded NC-17 rating? One of the young men indulges in the act of onanism in front of a photograph of Marlene Dietrich, male butt shots abound and we get a glimpse of flaccid penis half a dozen times, we see enough of Eva Green’s (admittedly spectacular) breasts to make them deserving of some Best Supporting performance award and, more generally, people get on top, under and around each other and explore their bodies in what feels like every other scene.
Hot stuff, yes, but no more than what we’ve seen in Swimming Pool or Y Tu Mama Tambien, both of which were also better written, better directed and better acted. Not that there aren’t insightful things said in “The Dreamers”, and Bertolucci is hardly a klutz with the camera, but to me the movie was always good-but-not-great, it never truly took off.
Michael Pitt is a compelling actor (at least to this once “Dawson’s Creek”-obsessed writer), but his character is mostly the straight-man, the observer, the stand-in for the audience. As for the twins, their quirks and contradictions are intriguing, but neither of them gets a satisfying character arc – it pretty much begins and ends with their “shocking” incestuous tendencies.
“The Dreamers” is certainly not a dull film (unlike the overrated and pretentious “Last Tango in Paris”), not with this charming and generally undressed cast, the great ‘60s rock soundtrack and amusing references to Godard, Chaplin, Keaton, Astaire, Garbo, etc. It’s just not a great one.