To love the cinema is to love Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers, a movie that encapsulates all the delight, all the joy of being a film geek. If I see this one a thousand times, it will never fail to move me.
Paris, 1968. Matthew (Michael Pitt), an American studying abroad, is a devoted film buff who spends his free time at the Paris Cinematheque, considered by many the royal palace of movie houses. While standing outside the Cinematheque one day, Matthew meets Isabelle (Eva Green) and her brother, Theo (Louis Garrel), both of whom share his deep passion for movies. The siblings take an immediate liking to their new American friend, and invite Matthew to move in with them while their parents are away on a month-long vacation. For the next several weeks, Matthew’s days and nights will be filled with bizarre realizations, sexual awakenings, and deep, meaningful discussions about the greater purpose of film. Comfortable in their self-imposed exile, the three fail to notice that chaos has hit the streets of Paris, and violent clashes between protesting students and the police have become an almost daily occurrence. Suddenly thrust back into the real world, the trio is forced to confront a situation that may bring their sheltered existence crashing down around them.
Many of the early scenes in The Dreamers are pure eye candy for film buffs like myself. When Matthew asks Isabelle if she was born in Paris, she replies that she was born in 1959 on the Champs Elysees, and her first words were “New York Herald Trubune”, a reference to the famous scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s classic film, Breathless, where Jean Seberg walks the Champs Elysees, selling that particular newspaper. In another tribute to Godard, Theo and Isabelle recruit Matthew as the third in their reenactment of the “Louvre Run”, as depicted in Godard’s 1964 film Band of Outsiders. In that movie, Claude Brasseur, Sami Frey and Anna Karina attempt to break the record of running through the Louvre museum in 9 minutes and 45 seconds (a time that Theo, Isabelle and Matthew do beat, but with only seconds to spare).
The Dreamers boasts not one, but three incredible performances. Louis Garrel brings an instinctive confidence to the role of Theo, the idealistic young man who fantasizes about a socialist France, yet who is himself stagnant and selfish. Theo offers up many strong opinions, yet lacks the motivation to carry them any further than the confines of his bedroom. As Isabelle, Eva Green is simultaneously sexy and innocent, and has the bearing of a natural performer (all the more amazing when you consider that The Dreamers was her first major film). On the flip side, Michael Pitt had built an impressive resume for himself prior to taking the role of Matthew, from Tommy Gnosis, the rock star/musical thief of John Cameron Mitchell’s boisterous Hedwig and the Angry Inch to Donny Semenec, perhaps the dumbest teen in Larry Clark's Bully. In The Dreamers, Pitt sets the perfect tone as a ‘fish-out-of-water’, an innocent bystander tossed head-first into the chaotic, sometimes frightening world of sexuality and violence.
Great performances aside, it’s the veneration of the cinema that’s landed The Dreamers firmly in my heart to stay. In an early scene at the Cinematheque, Matthew, as narrator, is describing for us his reaction to Samuel Fuller’s 1963 cult film, Shock Corridor, stating that it contained “images so powerful, it was like being hypnotized”. This is exactly how The Dreamers affected me. By approaching the cinema with an almost religious reverence, The Dreamers brings me to a state of hypnotic bliss each and every time I see it.
It is now, and always will be, a film lover’s paradise.
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