How much do you happen to know about 1968 Paris? Are you aware of the riots? What started them? How they played out and wound up coming to an end? What they were about? What the period in time was about in Paris at the time? If you don’t know, either The Dreamers will serve as an education or it will be an explicit sexual movie that will repulse, even though that partly encapsulates the period of the time, which was fixated on sex, the arts, and politics, all of which The Dreamers uses to create the mood of the time.
The film is primarily a three-person act. The “lead,” if you wish to call him that, is Matthew (Michael Pitt), an American who came to Paris to study French but spends his nights at the local cinema. It’s here where he meets eccentric siblings, Isabelle (Eva Green) and Théo (Louis Garrel), who have an English mother and a French father and therefore all three characters can go back and forth between the languages. Be prepared for that. For about a third of the film you’ll be reading subtitles.
The three bond over their love of the movies. Théo and Isabelle invite Matthew to stay with them in their home while their parents are out of town. There’s just one thing about the siblings: they just might be incestuous. Matthew sees them lying naked together late at night, but either out of respect or fear says nothing. Then, after a failed attempt at “Guess the movie,” Isabelle forces Théo to do something that siblings should witness one another do in front of both her and Matthew. That opens the floodgates for the sexually explicit material that earned the film an NC-17.
What follows is an odd love triangle-type thing involving the three characters. Most of the film from this point on follows the three of them in the house, often naked, discussing politics or film. There. All three elements of a period that director Bernardo Bertolucci wanted to bring across in the movie. The movie’s not just set against this period in time; it is this point in Paris’ history. Or, at the very least, it represents what was on everyone’s mind.
I suppose at this point what we need to determine is if it’s any good. The film accomplishes its director’s goal of evoking a period in time via its themes and content, so that would make it a success for him. It’s an art house film, so that’s really all that it needs to do, right? It says something, it does so in an “artistic” way, and it attempts to justify its explicit content because of this. I guess you can’t really try to deny its existence or say it’s bad, then, can you?
What about strong characters? The ones in the film are surrogates for the director to say things or do things that represent the period and the attitudes of the time. The plot? An excuse to get these characters together and have then do and say the aforementioned? The Dreamers is all about this point in time and what the people felt during this period. Not having deep characters or a sophisticated plot is inconsequential in a movie like this one; it accomplishes its goals without these elements.
This makes it unconventional and only really for people who enjoy art house films. Then again, given its NC-17 rating, it’ll only really find two audiences anyway. The first is the “edgy” crowd who will watch a movie specifically because of its acquisition of an NC-17 rating. They’re cool. The second are the people who are interested in the film’s content — and will likely understand all of its references to classic and New Wave films — its director and its point. They will appreciate it. The mainstream? Not so much.
The Dreamers is weird, okay? It’s not for everyone and it’s not even for many people. It has a specific target audience — no, not the NC-17 chasers, cool and hip as they may be — to whom it will appeal, and for the rest it will repulse and probably bore. It’s not terribly exciting, especially if you don’t have the context for its setting. Either do your research — you should be okay just reading this review, if I do say so — or go in with an incredibly open mind. If you don’t, you might as well not even bother.
It takes a certain type of actor to work on a film like this. For that matter, it takes a certain type of director and crew, too. But the actors and their various body parts are what winds up on-screen. Michael Pitt, Eva Green and Louis Garrel are seemingly fearless and they go at the explicit content with as much enthusiasm as they probably could. Sure, it’s all acting, but most actors would decline to go to the lengths these actors do in this movie. Is it all necessary for the film’s point? Probably not, but for simple shock value I’d advocate leaving it all in.
The Dreamers is a film looking to emulate a specific period in time in Paris’ history. The 1968 riots were an important time and this film does a good job of capturing the spirit and energy of the time. Sex, politics, cinema. It’s a sexually explicit film with little plot and characters who exist as surrogates for the film’s point. It’s an art house film through and through, and I recommend it to that crowd, as you won’t see another film like this one.