What hit me first was the turnout. The line wrapped around every wall and up the stairs as patrons from all over D.C. waited with the hope of snagging a seat to view Bernardo Bertolucci’s latest work, “The Dreamers” (Fox Searchlight).
The buzz about this film is unfortunately due to the controversial rating it has acquired by the Motion Picture Association of America, the scandalous NC-17. After viewing the film, two things became clear – “The Dreamers” does not warrant such a restrictive rating, and when it comes to art and entertainment, the American industry is full of aggressive prudes.
“The Dreamers” circles around the story of an American study abroad student, Matthew (Michael Pitt), and his two newly acquired French friends, Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel). The story is set in the tumultuous 1960s of Paris, where Matthew meets Theo and Isabelle, who are brother and sister, at the legendary Cinematheque, a French film palace that helped spawn the French New Wave. When Theo and Isabelle invite Matthew to stay with them, however, things get complicated, as Matthew is bombarded with the candid and at times sadistic sexuality the two have for each other and, eventually, Matthew as well. What develops is an examination of the three very French themes of cinema, sexuality and revolution. These themes are, in essence, quite similar; each contains elements of the other two.
Throughout “The Dreamers,” Bertolucci utilizes footage from many of cinema’s greatest artists, including Godard, Truffaut, Chaplin and Bresson. For Isabelle, Theo and Matthew, these images are just as real as the reality they live in. For them, life is hyper-real, and it is through this hyper-reality of fiction that a sort of hyper-life is achieved.
Bertolucci also revisits similar sexual scenarios as displayed in his 1970 film “The Conformist.” If it appears that only two people are having sex, chances are, the camera will eventually reveal a third party watching in plain sight. When a character is nude, it appears completely natural, and that’s the idea, because after all, isn’t that what nudity is supposed to be?
“The Dreamers” materializes the tribulations of censorship, as the film delves into a point in history when the Cinematheque was closed down by the government because of the controversial films displayed there. Here the film sparks the topic of its third major theme, revolution.
The fact that it has been six years since an NC-17 film has been released in the United States (“Bent” in 1997) makes one ponder. How prude does the MPAA think American audiences are? Being released after the Janet Jackson Super Bowl “scandal,” perhaps this point is especially apropos in an age obsessed with the OK “purity” of 1950s denial. Teenagers masturbate, teenagers have sex, and, as “The Dreamers” helps point out, purity is not avoiding the aforementioned events; it is accepting the fact that they are going to happen.
Nevertheless, the fact that other films of a similarly controversial nature have either been shelved or chopped in the editing room makes one wonder how much cinema society has missed out on. In this regard, “The Dreamers” is a war cry for itself and other films like it.