‘The first time I saw a movie at the cinématèque française I thought, “Only the French… only the French would house a cinema inside a palace.”‘
The first time I saw The Dreamers (2003) I felt my world shift and my cinematic viewpoint become all the more clear. This is by no means a new film but it is one of the key players in my love-affair with French Cinema and indeed with cinema in general.
You see, The Dreamers is not just one film, it is many. Bertolucci created what could arguably be described as an ideal showcase of the cinematic art form; one whose foundations are based on an entire collection of cinematic greats. The film makes reference to such classics as Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part, François Truffaut’s Les quatre cents coups, Josef von Sternberg’s Blonde Venusand Godard’s À bout de souffleto name but a few.
The Dreamers‘ premise is that of Matthew (Michael Pitt), an American exchange student in Paris, who encounters siblings Isabelle (Eva Green) and Théo (Louis Garrel) who are fellow film enthusiasts. As their friendship develops, Matthew discovers a perverse and somewhat incestuous side to the siblings. However, despite his moral objections, he ends up falling in love with both of them and entrenching himself deeper and deeper into their secluded bubble of fantasy and film. The film is set against the backdrop of the 1968 Paris student riots, the significance of which is emphasised by the trio’s continual denial of reality – by a life lived almost entirely in film.
The screenplay is based on the novel The Holy Innocents (later named The Dreamers) by Gilbert Adair which in turn is based on Jean Cocteau’s novel Les Enfants Terribles – later made into a film of its own by Jean-Pierre Melville. And so begins the art form within an art form within an art form…
No matter what Bertolucci produces, he can never evade the infamy of his film The Last Tango in Paris(1972) which involved a highly controversial anal sex scene between actors Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando in which butter was used as a lubricant. To add to the controversy at the time, Schneider later claimed to have had no prior knowledge of what Bertolucci had in store for her and felt “humiliated and […] raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci.” As a result, Eva Green’s parents begged her not to take the role of Isabelle in The Dreamers, concerned that the film – which features full frontal nudity and graphic sex scenes – would cause her to “have the same destiny as Maria Schneider”…
Despite these objections, Green went ahead with the filming and proved to be absolutely captivating as the beautiful, naive Isabelle. All three actors create a perfect unity with each other and the chemistry between them is unbelievably real. A perfect fusion of sexual, political and cinematic awakening, The Dreamers is an enchanting, exquisite production that is firmly cemented in the ‘classics’ of our time.