Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers came out during my first trip to Paris. I was young at the time, probably too young to see the movie, but I remember seeing posters for it. I’d had this obsession with the Situationist International and May 1968, so the film had been on and off my radar ever since.
When I finally got around to watching it last night, I was surprised by the heavy film buff theme and the critical motif of blindly following radical political philosophies. Indeed, it was a film completely and utterly after my own heart. (Plus, it helps that it has Michael Pitt, who’s both adorable and from New Jersey. Win-win.)
A quick synopsis: Matthew is an American living abroad in Paris during 1968, the “Year of the Riot.” Through the Cinémathèque Française, he meets twins Isabelle and Theo. Matthew begins living with the two and is quickly pulled into their delusional and incestuous relationship. The triad retreat further and further into their own make-believe reality, until they’re pulled into the tumultuous events of May ’68.
The movie was controversial, to say the least. The relationship between Theo and Isabelle is, frankly, shocking. But the movie still manages to be honest, as if these twins were exploring their sexuality in a completely free and genuine way. What Bertolucci does with their relationship is utterly impressive. Throughout the movie, we see Matthew encouraging them to think independently of each other, to grow. Toward the end, Matthew and Theo have a discussion about the leftist groups in Paris at the time, with which Theo supposedly identitfies. Matthew says:
They all carry the same book, they all sing the same songs, they all parrot the same slogans.
It’s a sentiment with which I identify strongly. With so many philosophies, religions, or party line of any type, there’s the issue of individuality, or lack thereof. The appeal in revolutions, in radical thought is in opening up your mind and relieving yourself of any preconceived or expected notions. At least, that’s how I feel. And this is exactly how Theo and Isabelle play off of each other. They are the group, one cannot think without the other. Whereas Matthew is always the individual. He is simultaneously part of the group and part outsider. It’s a precarious position that only reaches its peak at the end of the movie.
Beyond that, the fantasy world that the gang inhabits is well-crafted and utterly romantic. I’m in love with the references that Bertolucci makes in the movie. The argument between Theo and Matthew about who is better, Keaton or Chaplin (I still say Keaton), and the chanting of “We accept him, one of us!” a la Freaks had me giddy.
I have such a soft spot for movies about youth and idealism (The Edukators and But Forever in My Mind are also really high up there on my list of top films.) The Dreamers references all these things that I love, but had forgotten about. And that’s precisely what makes it charming. Despite its mature rating, I couldn’t help but feel overcome by youth and beauty and idealism after watching it. I’m still smiling.